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Need for ‘Blessing Bags’ grows as COVID pandemic drags on

Betsy Plante started the Blessing Bag Project in 2014. She's helped hand out over 5,000 bags full of toiletries and essentials to homeless men and women in six years

BRADENTON, Fla. — Betsy Plante, founder of the Blessing Bags Project, never expected her ministry to grow this quickly.

“People feel good about getting back,” she said Tuesday morning.

The Bradenton woman has been operating a homeless ministry since 2014. She and other volunteers take donated, and sometimes purchased, toiletry items and piece together bags of essentials for homeless families in their community. In six years, she estimates she’s helped make over 5,000 bags.

“We have done a lot, blessing bags for hurricane outreach, like thousand,” she said, holding a few items from a Blessing Bag.

The Blessing Bag Project also feeds people once per month at the Hungers End Food Pantry. In September, BBP provided meals for 175 people. 

“It can be a little big challenging, but it was good,” Plante said then.

The impact of the Blessing Bags has been felt outside the Bradenton community as well. After Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana, volunteers took hundreds of items to the state to people impacted by the storm.

“We actually sent a whole trailer full of stuff and a flatbed with two big pallets that were wrapped,” said Plante. “Everything was wiped out.”

It only took 37 minutes for all those supplies to be taken. That same impact is felt here at home every month. Bags are made up of items like toothbrushes, toothpastes, lotions, soaps and shampoos (like the travel size varieties commonly found in hotels) and sometimes combs and hand sanitizers. She also makes bags for children which include crayons, coloring books, snacks and stuffed animals.

The items are distributed by outside agencies, like Turning Points.

“If we give these to the agencies that provide the resources for the homeless people, less fortunate, and they hand them out where they are needed that’s giving them a hand up,” said Plante.

Donations are harder to come by during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plante hopes more come in. She trusts her faith in God to provide. When she helped pack up the supplies for Hurricane Dorian Laura relief in the Bahamas last year, costs topped $6,000. She recuperated that in a few days thanks to the generosity of people who believe in her ministry.

The pandemic might make that restocking of resources more difficult. Yet, she’s excited to see what comes next.

“It’s not the same as it used to be. We’re not really sure what’s gonna happen this year. We are going to see what happens with the numbers with Covid,” she said.

Plante still expects to do packing parties, only under safer conditions due to the pandemic. To donate, visit the Blessing Bag Project PayPal page.