How the Aurora Corps Is Loving Their Neighbors, One Blessing Bag at a Time
Michelle Kaus and her husband are both wildlife photographers in Aurora. Their favorite local park is home to many birds and ground animals, as well as a young man named Terrance.
They got to know Terrance when they finally approached him one day with a Blessing Bag from Michelle’s church, the Aurora Salvation Army Corps Community Center. It was clear Terrance was living in his car, and they’d seen him cooking meals on a little grill in the park. Michelle figured he could use the cold weather and personal hygiene essentials contained in the bag.
“Terrance said that was the first time someone had given him something and not asked for something in return,” Michelle said. “He really tugs at our hearts.”
This kind of interaction is exactly what Captains Rich and Linnea Forney, pastors at the Aurora Salvation Army Corps Community Center, had in mind when they mobilized their two congregations – one English-speaking, one Spanish – to fill string backpacks with toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, almonds, gloves, hand warmers, candy bars, and bottled water. They also added in a Salvation Army magazine and a hand-written note inviting the recipient to come to the church anytime.
The church members filled the Blessing Bags on one of their monthly Sundays of Service, when the church spends most of the Sunday morning doing something to meet needs in their neighborhood. As Michelle explained, “Church isn’t just inside these doors. Church is on the streets.” After filling the bags together, each member of the congregation took a couple to give to homeless individuals and others in need as they come across them in their community. When they’ve given those out, they can get more.
“We encouraged our members, don’t just go give the bags out and leave,” said Captain Rich. “Walk up, get the person’s name, hear their story if they’re willing to share it, and ask how you can pray for that person.”
In addition to Terrance, Michelle has given Blessing Bags to a young woman sitting outside a Walgreens and a guy on the side of the road. Neither were willing to give their name, but the man was open to Michelle praying for him.
“Their faces are priceless,” Michelle says of those receiving the bags. “One guy was like, ‘Is this for me?’ He was so excited to get a toothbrush. This has opened my eyes. Before, I never realized there were homeless people in our community.”
The project has also raised awareness of the challenges and complexities of homelessness. Michelle and her husband learned that Terrance has a job and is an outgoing, respectful young man. “It could just as easily be me,” she said.
Captains Rich and Linnea love hearing about such conversations. They’d hoped the project would help them spread the word about the many resources – food pantries, substance use disorder assistance, emergency rent and utility help – available through The Salvation Army. “This is who we are as the Army,” Captain Rich said, referring to the many programs available to meet people’s needs. “We want to make sure our members and our community know that.”
The Captains Forney also loved hearing about the mom who took her 12-year-old daughter with her to hand out a Blessing Bag “because she wanted her daughter to be comfortable helping others,” Captain Rich said.
“It means a lot knowing someone reached out to say ‘I care.’ Little things can make a big difference,” Michelle said. “I absolutely love this project. If I could give you a Blessing Bag to pass out, you’d be wowed too.”