Lunches with Love is a “Pay it Forward Project” where you pay for children’s school lunches in Manatee County who don’t qualify for free lunches. (non title one schools) Example is a single Mom who works 2 jobs, has (3) kids in school, pays rent, utilities, gas, groceries, etc. and is having a hard time making ends meet . This program will bless so many families struggling right now.
May, 21, 2022 / All Proceeds Donated to the Blessing Bags Project
The Blessing Bags Project is grateful to each and everyone of you that participated in the 2022 Giving Challenge. We are excited to announce we raised over $20K for the Ukraine Refugee Relief Fund.
Sometimes a series of seemingly good deeds can appear random – and sometimes, those same events weave together a story for the ages. This is one such tale of a ticket to one of Florida’s amusement parks that started like so many others, with the potential of a fun day for one visitor. This pass, though, would raise money, awareness, and, in the end, the spirits of more people than just being a simple entrance to an amusement park.
It all started with Betsy Plante, through one of the Suncoast’s local charities, Hunger’s End coming into possession of a said ticket to Disney World. Usually, she wouldn’t accept such things for herself, but in this case, after donating to Hunger’s End, she was given the ticket and thought it might be a welcome reprieve, so she cheerfully accepted. Little did she realize that ticket was not meant to get her into Disney World. Instead, on January 1, 2021, she offered the ticket during the Shamrock Shiver’s annual fundraising event in the silent auction.
Vicki Escobar Callahan was the winner of that silent auction, figuring it helped raise money for a good cause, and she would use the ticket for a visit to Disney World with a grandkid. Alas, she would soon realize that someone would need those tickets to complete a good deed mission for a special 30th birthday wish for a special man. She cheerfully became the next link in a journey of one ticket to fulfilling its ultimate destiny.
Enter Brian Posey, who was set to turn 30 on January 30, 2021, and his goal was to ride the Avatar Flight of Passage 30 times in one day in honor of this milestone birthday. Brian is an incredible young man who has Cerebral Palsy and uses a wheelchair. If you know anything about the movie, you will see the connection. Brian has ridden this ride 15 times in one day in the past as his last record and was determined to surpass it this time. Brian is from Mentor, Ohio, where he lives in the summer months, and the other nine months, he resides in Punta Gorda, FL, to help with his health.
Brian and his mom, Brenda, were in “training” to accomplish his goal. As anyone that might have enjoyed this ride knows, it has a steep incline to enter. To make 30 turns that day was going to take some stamina. This team was walking up to eight miles a day to build-up to the said event and realize this lofty goal. While in Ohio, Denise Bullock DeGennaro came in contact with Brian and his mom; she had a daughter with Autism who, upon meeting Brian, had an instant connection. Denise posted to her Facebook page looking for a Disney World ticket to make the last piece of the puzzle fall into place for Brian. Guess who saw the post? You guessed it – Vicki, and she offered up that little ticket to this amazing plan as she knew that the ticket that had traveled so far had found its purpose in Brian’s story.
After posting the plea on Facebook, Denise went a step further the day of the big event by actually flying in from Chesterland, Ohio, and taking Marisa to the park to surprise Brian as he made the push on Avatar for 30 rides in a single day. As they cheered him on, taking photos and video, the day passed by, and the number ticked up, one, five, and then fifteen times, which was Brian’s old record times he had ridden his favorite ride. The day began to fade as he continued marching with his new friend’s encouragement to his final goal. Unfortunately, at 5:00 p.m., the park was due to close, and they were only at number 26 rides ahead of that deadline.
It should be noted that Marisa had joined Brian for these rides after his first solo turn. The pure joy as they rode this is captured in so many heartwarming photos from that day. Though the story was ordained to continue on past closing time, it was about to finish on an epic twist. The park closed at 5 p.m., and Brian had just finished his 26th ride. The staff couldn’t let Brian be denied his happily ever after birthday story, so they put Brian and Marisa on together in separate chambers and ran it continuously four more times to reach 30!
What a story that little ticket lived! So many innocuous moments of giving came together to make this feel-good moment happen. When you talk to any of the players who made this story a reality, each will tell you they were just a vessel to a bigger plan. Each and everyone believes that they have lived a moment that will indelibly mark their lives, and each, in turn, tears up when telling of their small part. Though I bet all Brian cares to recall is the amazing day he and his new friend Marisa made magic on a ride 30 times over!
Photos courtesy of Denise Bullock DeGennaro
When we first started The Blessing Bags Project, it was about the good we could do in helping deliver necessities to those most in need. As the needs have continued to rise, challenges have forced us to raise funds in new ways to continue to rise to the challenge of helping more individuals and families with each passing year. If 2020 taught us anything about the unique challenges of fundraising in this new normal environment is that the social media aspect of getting our message out is critical.
Whether building a website with a clear call to action, delivering engaging collateral material for events to the right audience in a timely fashion, or simply being up on the latest trend – it is all-important these days. At The Blessing Bags Project, we learned this when we attempted in the middle of a pandemic to try and get the word out about our Shamrock Shiver Fundraiser this past New Year’s Day. We turned to our friends at Sande Caplin and Associates, and they came through to help deliver the best event possible.
James Newton, their guru of everything technical and creative, delivered our unique media graphics for this event. Online, in print at the event, and on mailings for sponsors, these details all mattered. Sande Caplin using all of his expertise, threw it behind our event to ensure the story ran in the Suncoast Post to garner an even wider audience and other aspects of marketing for the best turnout possible. This group remains a staunch partner to help drive the audience we need for each of our campaigns to raise awareness and funds for this critical mission.
We no longer underestimate the ability of our web presence, email contact lists, and social media to get our message across. At The Blessing Bags Project as we continue to be limited on some fronts by the continuing social media necessary to staunch this pandemic, we are reinventing ourselves to meet the need in the future for those less fortunate, and social media will help us attain these goals. Look for a new website to better tell our story, and bring in volunteers and partnerships to help in even more – coming later this year!
Photos courtesy of Unsplash
Everyone can agree 2020 will be one for the record books and not soon forgotten. We all learned how strong we were as the pandemic sickened and killed people across the globe. Loved ones got sick, many people quarantined for long periods without any direct human contact outside those they lived with, millions lost jobs, hosts of people mentally struggled with the isolation, and other debates rocked our world. While all are looking to 2021 for a fresh start, it will be a long and slow road to recovery for many. In the midst of the pandemic, several organizations continued to care for our Suncoast communities’ most in-need families, children, and citizens at large. The Blessing Bags Project is such an organization that remained poised to help in so many ways during last year’s trying times.
We have all just come through probably the most unusual Thanksgiving of our lifetimes. Gatherings via Zoom versus in-person hugs became a reality of our once favorite holiday this year. The same people you were stuck inside with all year might have been the same folks and only attendees around the table. Fear of a virus spreading throughout the globe, along with many other natural disasters, and political stories have captivated the screens as our only windows into a world pretty shaken as we enter the end of 2020. Thus many ask, how can anyone expect me to donate my time or money this holiday to others when I don’t know how my situation might be playing out in six weeks or months down the road?
It’s a great question, and one without a clear answer. The funny part is that no one can expect anything of their fellow man – be it stimulus checks, fast vaccines, kindness, or grace in the face of unimaginable tragedy. We have to find that motivation deep within ourselves. Many of us have traditions around the holiday that would once include serving at food banks, dinners for the less fortunate, foster kid appreciation and gift events, homeless coat distributions, and the list goes on. Sure, there are masks, sanitizers, and stay at home orders now that limit or have eradicated these large scale volunteer efforts. That doesn’t mean the need has gone away.
Imagine for a moment that you were a food service, resort worker, or mechanic barely making the edges meet before the pandemic. What does your world look like today? Bleak would be the best word. Loss of jobs has led to unprecedented mental illness events, homelessness, reliance on nonprofit resources, and most of all, a rampant fear that is debilitating our communities. Essential workers like nurses, doctors, and researchers finding a vaccine and helping those felled by the pandemic are inspirational for certain, deserving of all the support we can provide. But lest we not forget those who work in the food banks, distribute necessities to the less fortunate, welfare workers trying to keep children and those with mental illnesses safe. The volunteers that rise each morning to put themselves directly in the path of those who are bearing the brunt of this horrible pandemic.
This holiday season, and even as we enter 2021, we all need to glance around and do a short tally of our blessings. Are we healthy, and are our children safe beside us? Do we still have a house to distance within socially? Are we able to have delivered, curbside pick up, or even shop all the necessities? If you can answer yes to these questions – you did pretty well in 2020 for sure. Maybe this holiday, think about those who answered no, to one or all of those questions above. Is there something small in the way of a donation of your time or monies that might make all the difference to someone teetering on the edge of hopelessness, or maybe simply needs a hand to pull them back up until the worst of this passes, and they can get back to work?
Yes, 2020 has kicked us all in the teeth. The one thing we have going for us is hope, love, and community. Whatever small thing you can do to keep those things afloat until we can all get back to a new normal is appreciated. The front line workers that will distribute gifts, food, and the basics to so many this season thank you – and together, we will prove that nothing can get us truly down if we link hands and support each other.
May you all have a wonderful holiday season!
Photos courtesy of pexels.com
The homeless have been an ongoing conversation in our society for years. Those without financial means, mental capacity in many cases to care for themselves without assistance, and end up on the streets in our country is a tough conversation getting harder during this pandemic. Many will argue that they don’t deserve help as they put themselves in this plight, or help provided them will go to the wrong things. The focus of those conversations focused on the incorrect question, which is the way they are homeless. Yes, that also needs to be answered to help prevent new cases from arising. Unfortunately, there are more immediate questions that need addressing. This pandemic has taught us all one valuable lesson through a year of hard isolation, loss of jobs, family, community due to this pandemic. Today, maybe we all need to take a pause and consider how. How do we all help each other as a community?
Homelessness is a real problem, and the pandemic just helped bring it even further to the forefront. Have you driven down streets here in Florida, and now with businesses closed, see these faces that might have been less visible in a crowd before this all happened? With businesses shut, what little help those that were food insecure and homeless before this started might have been able to garner, is gone. Additionally, it’s not just the traditional mentally ill, traumatized, and other sad stories that are finding a home no longer a given. The pandemic has drastically shifted our world here in tourist-driven, Florida, where many could work in restaurants, resorts, and other occupations to help make ends meet. Now with those jobs closed for a good portion of the year and operating in limited capacity now, many are finding the ability to keep a roof over their heads diminishing.
If you are fortunate to have enough, there is something you must consider. Does the why matter or just the how when thinking of those less fortunate? The Blessing Bags Project is one such nonprofit amongst a host of them here on the Suncoast, helping solve this crisis in meaningful ways. Handing out hand sanitizer to help prevent infection amongst the homeless, just like the rest of us in this COVID-19 infected world. They are gathering coats to give to those who won’t be able to afford them. This community of volunteers is spreading Christmas cheer to families that would not have a holiday of any size without support. Groups provide warm meals and companionship to those who might otherwise not be in a position to obtain such for themselves. Finally, they are humanizing, listening, and engaging the homeless in our hometowns to see if they can advocate, point them toward resources and help be just one voice helping to solve this ever-growing concern.
As we move toward the end of a tough 2020 for all of us and the homeless numbers in this country soar, let us consider how. How can you help, just a little? Do you have meaningful items that could be donated, or maybe your company can do a holiday drive of some sort, even virtually? Find the organization that is on the front lines that you align with most and help make a small dent in the growing concern that the pandemic with loss of life, jobs, and security has wrought on a new group of homeless. If we all did one little thing, can you imagine the impact that would have?
Photos courtesy of pexels.com
It takes a large volume of volunteers to get any event off the ground, and COVID-19 has not helped with the intricacies that come with planning large gatherings. Unfortunately homeless and others most in need have seen their requirements increase, leading volunteers to find ways to help even in these trying times. October sees The Blessing Bags Project tackling three major events and a host of other events to further bless those less fortunate or homeless in our community. Whether they are children bags needed to cheer up kids, ensure they have necessary items, or something to keep them busy blessing bags will be made available. Additionally, pregnant moms of middle and high school years requiring necessary supplies this month will see The Blessing Bags Project taking on providing bags for their use during this critical time. This is never possible without partnerships with other organizations, caring volunteers, and a host of donations.
Just look at the list of amazing events for October:
- October 17, 2020 Myakka Backpack with Manatee County Rural Health
- October 24, 2020 National Day of Service for the Sarasota Business Exchange Group
- October 27 & 30, 2020 “Love Happens” with The Bridge Church
- October 20, 2020 In Seminole with a church group teaching them how to make Blessing Bags
- October 21, 2020 We will send 26 “Baby Bags” on The Compassion Bus from the First Church Nazarene Bradenton. They will be distributed to middle and high school girls who are pregnant!
Several of these events will be outside to help best accommodate social distancing needs. As we all learn a new normal, October and the end of the year with the cooling of temperatures, return to school and holidays pose some of the greatest need for the homeless and others disadvantaged in our communities. Whether you wish to get involved through donations only, volunteering, or maybe sponsoring an event The Blessing Bags Project welcomes your inquires. Check out this website for ways to contact us, or drop off sites for donations. Additionally, always stay up to date with the goings-on of the wonderful team on our Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Pixaby
Christmas this year will look unprecedented, and honestly unpredictable as to exactly what the rules for social distancing and other precautions brought on by COVID-19 will cause us to do differently. Yes, there probably won’t be any visits to Santa’s lap for pictures, and many family cards will feature a bright assortment of masks for the first time ever. Large gatherings such as the one that has occurred with the help of The Blessing Bags Project, sponsors, and donors in years past for the homeless and less fortunate of the Suncoast will not be possible. Thanks to the resourcefulness of amazing volunteers, adjustments are being made to ensure that the homeless and other populations served by this organization will get the holiday blessings to make the season as festive as possible.
HOW TO HELP
The industrious elves at The Blessing Bags Project are busy gathering volunteers, sponsors, and brainstorming ideas to help put on a wonderful drive through option this year. This will include breakfast, gifts, and even possibly a quick family snapshot with Santa. Keep your eyes peeled to the Facebook page for details as they start to trickle out to the community. If you know a child that should be on the list for a special Christmas treat from The Blessing Bags Project, please call or email the Betsy Halliwell Plante or the office at The Blessing Bags Project.
While many will not have their friends and family around this holiday as in years past, the loss of jobs being at an unprecedented level will see elevated needs for the homeless, food insecurity, and other difficulties, worry most about this coming time of year. A small donation of any amount pooled with so many others will help ensure that our community’s homeless have the necessities during this most trying end of the year. Time and again, our amazing community come together to prove why the Sarasota and Manatee County communities are the best places to live. Let’s do all we can this year to help make the season jolly for some of those who would otherwise have nothing to be cheerful for.
Photo courtesy of Pixaby and The Blessing Bags Project