Filling Bags for the Homeless a Joyous, Interfaith Affair

People filled bags for the homeless at the Interfaith Governor’s Day to Serve. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

The assembly line operated like a well-oiled machine last week at Morning Star Baptist Church Community Outreach and Educational Center in Woodlawn, where young and old from the area’s Jewish and Christian communities chatted and worked together to fill about 300 red and blue “blessing bags” destined for homeless men and women across the Baltimore area.

The occasion was the Oct. 3 Interfaith Governor’s Day to Serve, prompted by an annual call to action from the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives for communities to work on service projects between Sept. 11 and Oct. 10.

The fill-the-blessing-bag assembly line. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

About 60 people snaked quickly around a large U-shaped configuration of tables, filling the bags, red for women and blue for men, from piles of toiletries, snacks, socks, water bottles and city service guides. Once at the end, they deposited the bags on a growing red and blue mountain, picked up an empty bag and started over. The assembly line went on for about an hour until every bag was filled, during which people talked and laughed and worked together.

“The goal is 300 and we encourage all 300 of those to be taken home tonight, so folks can give those to someone they see that’s in need,” said Matt Peterson, assistant director of government relations and communications for the Baltimore Jewish Council, a sponsor of the event along with the church and Repair the World Baltimore. “We want to try and get this as geographically spread out as possible, so if someone takes five bags, we’d like them to give them to five different people in five different parts of the community. Anyone they see in need experiencing homelessness.”

Cleopatra Lytle grabs her bags to distribute to homeless people. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

This was the first year that Cleopatra Lytle, a Morning Star Baptist Church board member, participated in the event.

“Part of our community development is to engage with and provide for the needs of the community,” Lytle said. “Our church moved here from Catonsville in December, so we want the community to know we’re here — and we’re here to serve.”

For Noah Mitchel, assistant director of community relations for the BJC, service events give communities of different faiths a good reason to get together.

“This has been one of the best ways to bring people out to do something that is also meaningful and helpful to the community,” he said. “It’s to do a service activity, but also to get to know our neighbors from other faith communities better.”

Twelve-year-old Elliot Libit, a student at Dumbarton Middle School, came to the event with his sister Maya and father, the BJC’s executive director Howard Libit, as part of his bar mitzvah project. He appreciated the interfaith aspect because he said he got to meet people from around the area.

“It helps many people in our community,” Elliot said. “When I’m driving down to Johns Hopkins, we see many people down there who are in need of help and as we see people, we’ll hand them these bags.”

Del. Shelly Hettleman and Elliot Libit. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

In the crowd, busily packing bags, a couple local pols were spotted, including former city councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector and Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11).

The Governor’s Day to Serve is a volunteer competition between Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. This is the third year BJC has participated.

“Maryland has won every year that it’s been run,” said Kevin Craft of the GOCI. “They track the number of participants, the number of hours worked and if it’s a [worthwhile] event. Everything gets measured. The Baltimore Jewish Council has been a very good partner for this initiative.”

George Faber, a member of B’nai Israel Congregation and a longtime volunteer, came out to help because he said “homelessness and addiction and what’s connected to them are very serious and unfortunate to experience. I believe in tikkun olam and giving back.”

Libit said the BJC is trying to do more hands-on activities with other faith communities.

The blessing bags ready to hit the road. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

“So, there’s an opportunity to have dinner together, to talk about issues and then participate in something to make the community and our world a better place,” Libit said. “We feel like we’re going to have a deeper, more meaningful relationship if we get people together like that, rather than lecturing each other. You get to know each other in a more hands-on way and understand and live the idea that our shared values are pretty significant…that we’re pretty similar and we’re all looking just to live in a better place and get along with our neighbors.”

As the evening wound down, even more quickly than the bags were filled, people grabbed armfuls of the colorful, filled sacks and headed out to spread some goodwill. JT

For more information or to sign up for an activity, visit

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