Building Community: Creative Crafts for a Cause!

Why is there no emergency shelter in Irvine?  That’s the first question I was asked by a 13 or 14 year old.  She was one of ~15 of the crafty volunteers from high schools in Irvine at Creative Crafts for a Cause: Compassion Kits for Homeless People organized by InSight Magazine and Irvine for Everyone. We were still in the meet and greet stage and I wondered how to answer her. Should I give her the oft-repeated line by city officials, leaders, and residents, “Irvine doesn’t need a shelter”? Or should I explain, “That’s a complex question and there’s many layers to the answer starting with misconceptions that there are no homeless people in Irvine and hence we don’t need a shelter, fears and incorrect beliefs about emergency shelters and culminating in no political will.”  I decided to sidestep the question (better for her to discover the answer) and focus on what we had gathered to do.  So I said: Well, the most recent count, the 2019 Point in Time count results show that 127 people are living unsheltered in Irvine + 3 in shelters, presumably elsewhere, since Irvine has no publicly known shelter.  We also know these numbers are probably low because non-profit homeless service providers have told me that many people hide their homelessness. They do so because of shame, the stigma of being poor, having no home, and fear that their children may be taken away from them. That’s why we’re here today. We want to take the fear, shame, and social stigma away. We want to learn to see them as people first, and homeless next. We’re here to humanize homelessness.

That’s what we did.  Limited to 30 volunteers, our event sold out early.  The seamstress team was faultlessly and perfectly led by Suzanne who coordinated a lot of pre-event help from Regents Point women along with Mary (Canvas) and Jud(LB). They stitched 30 + bags in beautiful fabrics and lightweight too.  Volunteers filled the bags with basic hygiene supplies – see list below – and wrote notes of inspiration.* 

A lot of groups assemble and distribute ‘blessing bags’ as these kinds of hygiene and compassion kits are usually called. But the uniqueness of our “knowledge into action” experience was that the volunteers were invited to take home a bag each and use it to build the social capital of a homeless person. The research shows that homeless people lack social capital and sheltered residents often don’t feel comfortable engaging with homeless people either.  That is why they often call law enforcement right away when they see one!  We want to change this vicious circle.  So besides just having hygiene supplies assembled, notes written, we invited three experts to explain the purpose of each supply item, the bag, the note and share tips for helping us connect a bit more with a homeless person.

Moderated by Orbelin Portillo and using their own powerful and very different experiences with homelessness, Bejuique Shambow, Bobby Austin, and Garrett Dunbar explained each item in it.  They told us how we can use the bags to begin a conversation and the impact our kindness can have.  A note from a stranger, a little girl, who handed it to him with a smile, helped Bobby quit drugs for good and begin to turn his life around. Among other things, Beju explained the critical need for socks and all-natural coconut oil.  Garrett taught us the Platinum Rule.  We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others how you would like them to do unto you.”  The Platinum Rule is “Do unto others how they would like you to treat them.” Many homeless people have suffered abuse and trauma.  Homelessness itself is traumatic. So we practice the art of listening to homeless people carefully and respectfully, not just push our gifts, and do-good, charity, unthinkingly.  It is important to look the person in the eye, talk to them for some time, and understand a bit, instead of handing them a bag at a traffic light and driving away! An excellent suggestion:  Visit a homeless person as a family, to talk, and gift the kit. All three of them also encouraged us to be safe.

All participants were invited and some are planning to share their stories, lessons learned and next steps on May 4 at Homelessness Demystified: Strategic Directions and Missional Actions at First Pres. Church Orange. Men and women are welcome and you can RSVP here.

A Bogie grant from PWP helped I4E to pay for the hygiene kit supplies. InSight Magazine picked up the costs of the bags and most thoughtfully chosen and environmentally aware refreshments served.  The City of Irvine donated the beautiful space, technology, and it was fun to have so many young and enthusiastically curious volunteers. 

A copy of the program schedule will be available from the I4E Digital Library next week. Below is the list of hygiene supplies in each bag along with a note in the front pocket: 

List of Items in the Hygiene Kits**

  1. A pair of Men’s Socks
  2. A pair of Women’s Socks
  3. EOS Organic Lip Balm
  4. 3 packs of Emergen C (1000 mg each)
  5. Sesame Street Bandages (20 in each box)
  6. Two washcloths
  7. Safeguard Anti-bacterial moisturizing bar soap, 4 oz.
  8. Aim Ultra Mint Gel Toothpaste 5.5 oz
  9. Pearson Anti-Plaque Toothbrush***
  10. Glide floss***
  11. Travel size Colgate toothpaste***
  12. Sunstar Gum Proxabrush Travel size
  13. Speedstick Deodarant 1.8 oz.
  14. Up & Up Hand Sannitizer, 8 oz.
  15. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil 4 oz.
  16. Sunscreen lotion (30) 4 oz.
  17. Shampoo-Conditioner-Body Wash 15 oz.
  18. Plastic Water Bottle
  19. Pre-Moistened Flushable Wipes (60 ct.)

*Thanks to Kathleen Julian for donating the cards for the lovely note cards and envelopes on which we wrote the notes of inspiration and compassion.

**Thanks to the Bogie Mission Grant from the Presbyterian Women of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. The grant funds helped us buy the hygiene kit supplies for today’s event (total cost $532.70 with each hygiene kit costing $17.756).

***Thanks to Gregory Clibon, Heritage Family Dental for the donation of the dental supplies of toothbrush, travel size toothpaste and Glide floss.

About Irvine for Everyone: 

Irvine for Everyone (I4E) supports the creation of the full spectrum of housing in Irvine, California and empowers evidence-based solutions for ending OC homelessness and housing shortages. I4E is focused on community education about homelessness and its solutions.


Visit the I4E Digital Library

Follow I4E on Facebook

Watch I4e videos on YouTube

About Homelessness Demystified and the Buffet of Educational Experiences (BEE): From February 2 to May 4, I4E is helping and partnering with faith, education, civic, and the nonprofit homeless service provider communities to offer hands-on ways of learning about the complex social issue of homelessness. All of us learn in different ways.  That is why the Buffet or BEE has 7 different categories of learning experiences – Housing, Volunteering, Donating, Advocating, Connecting, Knowledge into Action and more – to help us #BEEthechange we want to see in the world.  We want to increase awareness of the homelessness crisis in the OC, and humanize homeless people.  Creative Crafts for a Cause, an event with our partner InSight Magazine is a Knowledge into Action experience.  Thank you for engaging and being the change you want to see in the world.

About InSight Magazine:

InSight Magazine is a digital and print publication focused on making poverty visible and knowledge actionable. Our mission is to harness the power of media to educate, engage, and inspire change by exploring poverty and highlighting creative and effective approaches to poverty alleviation. InSight is a student-run publication and is part of the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation.


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