A Love Bag is easy to put together and can make a positive difference in someone’s day. A love bag is simply a bag filled with consumable goodies and a message of love. I hand them out as gifts to homeless people around Santa Cruz when we go into town. I started this practice in the nineties when I had an early morning babysitting gig in my Virginia hometown.
On my way home from work, I would often sit at the red light in the left turn lane to deposit my check and grab a fast food breakfast sandwich. A nice man with a kind smile often stood on the median of the intersection with a sign that read, “homeless veteran, anything helps” or something to that effect. It’s a common sight to anyone who’s ever been in or near an urban area. I would give him my spare change if I had any or a couple bucks after a lucrative waitress shift the night before. After about a year or so into our routine, I was in CVS getting myself some vitamins and I thought that maybe he could use some too so I filled a bag with vitamins, a toothbrush, trial-sized toiletries, granola bars, and orange juice. The man was so touched by the gesture and we had a nice talk while the light was red. After all that time, I only then got his name and gave him mine. We wished each other well. The following week I moved spontaneously to Pittsburgh. I never saw him again but the gracious smile he gave in exchange for that bag of goodies has inspired me to continue the practice ever since.
Now we live in the mountains so I drive into town about once a month to stock up at Target and Trader Joe’s. I usually try to pick up some love bag ingredients while I’m there. Target has a great trial-sized toiletry section. Depending on my budget for the month, I gather enough toiletries for at least a couple of bags. Sometimes I get a little more and sometimes a little less. At Trader Joe’s I buy Kind bars and other pre-packaged, healthy, single-serving treats. I always pick up free toiletry and skincare samples from grocery and drug stores and take my unopened hotel soaps when I travel. Sometimes, I find good deals on bulk socks or t-shirts to add to the bags. In cold months, I add hand warmers and in warm months, bug repellent wipes. I have one steadfast rule about love bags: everything in them must be new. Recipients of love bags deserve their dignity and along with it fresh, clean, new items that were chosen with care.
I collect the trial sizes and samples in a big basket at home until I’m ready to fill the bags. I lay everything out on the table and fill them up. I generally use one-gallon plastic zip bags because they’re transparent and waterproof. Also, the recipient can reuse them several times. Compostable bags are obviously better but they’re way more expensive. You’ll have to decide how to balance your earth sense with your budget. You can also put to use that plastic grocery bag collection taking over that cabinet in your kitchen. Grab those unused tote bags full of swag sitting in your closet from those work conferences you already forgot about. Bottom line: pretty much any bag will do.
A message of kindness is an integral part of the love bag. You don’t have to be sappy or become a motivational speaker. Sometimes I write something nice on the bag like, “your smile has the power to change someone’s day” or “you are beautiful”. I might write a silly quote that serves no other purpose than to make someone chuckle or crack a smile. Other times I just write LOVE with a heart for the O or draw peace signs, hearts, and smiley faces. I do that especially if I get the Kleenex travel packs with motivational messages already on them. Don’t overdo the message. It matters less what you say and more that you made the effort to personalize the gift; make that human-to-human connection.
For the most part, the bags are functionally unisex. I do try to make half of the bags specific to women though. If I were a love bag recipient, I would prefer flowery feminine deodorant to something that smells like cowboy musk or pine trees. I get toothbrushes and tissue packets in pinks and purples with flowers. I add night cream and makeup samples. You could become someone’s instant hero if you throw in a couple of tampons or pads too.
You can just as easily make children’s bags. When I lived in Romania, children on the street asked me for money every day. I got into the habit of always carrying juice boxes, fruit, and granola bars for them. Sometimes a backpack full of snacks functions as your love bag.
Love bags are easy to make and you can make as many or few as you are able. If buying travel sizes and plastic zip bags isn’t in your budget, start collecting samples from every store and magazine you come across and fill up a once-used plastic grocery bag with free samples and a couple of bananas. A little face cream and a snack have the power to transform a person. Share some love!
The average love bag consists of the following:
Toothpaste & toothbrush
Shampoo (and conditioner)
Food bar (Kind, Luna, Cliff, etc.)
Fruit (apple, banana, orange)
Some other things you can add:
Free samples – face cream, soap, lotion, shampoo/conditioner, perfume, vitamins
We have included a Love Bags Postcards printable PDF file with some designs that you can use in your love bags – click here to download. If you know of any resources that might help people, you can add phone numbers or addresses as well.
Author: Chrissy Miller, Ph.D.
Chrissy is a California mountain mama newly transplanted from the east coast. She spends her days frolicking in the redwood forest with her toddler son, hula hooping, writing, cooking, and helping her husband tend to their plants and bees.
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