WATCH PHILANTHROPY SPOTLIGHT: Now in Its Sixth Year, Health First Associate’s ‘Blessing Bags’ Help Hundreds in Need
By Space Coast Daily // July 27, 2023
Health First’s Center for Family Caregivers
WTACH: Tiffiny Overath’s personal vision of reaching the community “one bag at a time” is in full assembly-line mode and has reached its sixth year of operation with over a dozen friends, community members and Health First colleagues filling gallon-sized bags with love and blessings – Blessing Bags, Overath calls them.
BLESSING BAGS: A snack, fresh water, grooming supplies – and a roadmap to help.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – On a hot and steamy Wednesday evening earlier this month, as the workday was coming to a close for many, a small conference room in Health First’s Center for Family Caregivers was just becoming active.
Boxes and bags began rolling in – food items, personal grooming supplies, first aid kits, pallets of water, the all-important bus passes, and a stack of printed items with resource information for the homeless and downtrodden.
By 5 p.m., Tiffiny Overath’s personal vision of reaching the community “one bag at a time” was in full assembly-line mode and had reached its sixth year of operation with over a dozen friends, community members and Health First colleagues filling gallon-sized bags with love and blessings – Blessing Bags, Overath calls them.
When Overath, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Health First, moved from Iowa to Florida more than six years ago, she noticed homeless and indigent people at intersections, outside store fronts and other areas in Brevard. And she wanted to do something to help her new community.
“It was heartbreaking to see people on the Space Coast with so much alongside others with so little, and I wanted to do something, anything, to help,” said Overath. “I gathered a group of seven friends and put together 100 Blessing Bags – a variety of health, hygiene, and comfort items.”
On an evening earlier this month, six years later, Overath was looking at hundreds of pounds of donated items and over a dozen volunteers filling bags then dispersing them across the community, “blessing” one person at a time – on a roadside, in a park, on the beach. Anywhere a need is found, those Blessing Bags teeming with helpful and sustaining items will bring a smile.
The Brevard Homeless Coalition works with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Florida Department of Children and Families Office of Homelessness. The coalition estimates there were nearly 1,000 people experiencing homelessness in Brevard County alone. Overath collaborates with the coalition, along with the outreach program at Mosaic Palm Bay, a church, to determine where there is the most need.
“This is all really very grassroots. It’s friends, neighbors, coworkers, church folks, anybody and everybody that I can get to give $5, $100 and everything in between. The ‘build’ itself – filling the bags – is always the thing that goes the fastest.
It takes months to raise enough money and raise enough supplies to build 200 bags, but as little as 20 minutes to do it,” Overath explained.
“The very first item in every bag is a resource list put together by the Housing for Homeless organization, as well as a bus pass. So that resource list should have where to get a hot meal and a hot shower and a bus pass to get you there. It’s a roadmap to help,” Overath continued.
According to volunteer Tara Sobczak, the ultimate goal is two-pronged. First, to let individuals know they are loved and cared about through a surprise gift. Secondly, and most importantly, to point them in the right direction for long-term assistance such as housing and counseling services. The team spreads out across Melbourne and Palm Bay and gives the bags to people near homeless camps and during the day when they are out and about.
“When people get the bags, they’re of course used to getting typical things like socks and a bus pass and maybe some hygiene stuff. But the bags that they get when we do this particular event has extra goodies in it. They’re really excited, and it lets them know that there’s people in the community who are thinking about them,” said Sobzcak.
“It’s so hot in the summer that the little extras that they get, especially things like baby wipes and deodorant, the first-aid kits and extra snacks, that’s really important and lets them know that we care about them and they are being thought of and we’re trying to help.
“It might just be something little and extra, but it gives them at least a couple extra minutes to stop and relax. And for those of us who are out there doing street outreach, it gives us an opportunity to help them while they’re relaxing for just an extra minute. And it really makes a huge difference for the folks that we’re helping. I know the difference that it can make for somebody who gets an extra just even if it’s a couple extra minutes to just stop and relax for a minute, it helps them move forward. The goal isn’t to just make somebody comfortable living outdoors, it’s to help them move forward, to get into housing.”