by Marla Gagne ’18
Saturday morning, Katharine Comber ’18, Emily Ventura ’18, and Grace George ’19 drove to Walmart armed with a list of supplies and a budget of $250. They slowly checked the items off their list—chapstick, cough drops, gloves, and Valentine’s Day candy—and left with armfuls of bags. But these supplies are not going home— they are going to the homeless.
One goal for Providence College’s Students for Social Action (SSA), a club aimed at tackling social issues and performing community service, is to help the homeless community this semester. “The homeless population is frequently overlooked in society, and so we wanted to help them around Valentine’s Day to show them that there are people that care about them,” said Comber, president of SSA.
So what exactly do shopping bags have to do with the homeless? The Walmart trip was one of many steps that allowed the club of 30 to launch their first annual “blessing bags” mission. Aimed at providing the necessities for people on the streets, the bags include everyday items that meet the needs of both men and women. “We focused on toiletries,” said Ventura, vice president. “From research, we found food is sometimes more accessible and toiletries are more expensive.”
The five member exec board also wanted to help during times when many people forget about giving. Victoria Palmer ’18, secretary, said, “Everyone donates during Thanksgiving and Christmas and forgets about the giving season in January and February, the coldest months.”
Deciding what to put in the bags and how many to make was a difficult process. Comber, Ventura, and Palmer, along with Treasurer Keaundra Lawson ’18 and Public Relations and Media correspondent Grace George, spent weeks researching what items to include and hunting down the best bargains.
In the end, the club made 50 blessing bags that included toothbrushes, floss, cough drops, band-aids, tissues, soap, toothpaste, snacks, and Valentine’s Day candy, among other items. The bags also had gender-specific items, adding chapstick for men and gloves and pads for women.
When asked if there were any items that especially stuck out to them, Ventura said buying tampons had the biggest impact on her because “[they are for] a personal need that women don’t have control over.”
Overall, the club members felt the mission was a huge success. The idea for the blessing bags originated last year when exec member Kristen Perelli ’16 saw Facebook and Pinterest posts about people keeping bags of supplies in their cars for homeless people they saw on the street. At the time, SSA did not have funding from Student Congress and was unable to carry out the event.
The idea was not forgotten, however, and club members this year decided it was worth continuing the work that past members started. They decided to take the individual act and make it a group effort for homeless centers in the area.
“It was just an idea last spring semester and this spring semester we actually followed through with it and only hope to make it bigger next year,” said Ventura.
The supplies from the shopping trip were later packaged by an assembly line of club volunteers. The blessing bags will now be donated mainly to Crossroads Homeless Shelter and, if there are extra, potentially to the people of Riverwood Mental Health and House of Hope.
SSA hopes to make next year’s event even bigger, gaining more donations from the PC community and local stores.
They look forward to continually talking about social issues and finding events to support in the coming semester, whether it is talking about sexual assault on campus or showing support for the Providence Women’s March.
A trip to Walmart or packaging drinks into a bag may seem like a small act but, as Comber pointed out, “most students don’t work with the homeless,” and these events “bring awareness to social issues happening on campus and off campus too.”