Lee County Parish reaches out to help homeless

Coming together in service for others is a key component of living a faithful Catholic life.

The Lee County Homeless Coalition posted this image to social media on Oct. 1, 2020 of Blessing Bags donated by the faithful of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers.

Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers offers a variety of programs throughout the year to help encourage parishioners to engage in service to help others in the community. One recent effort is the Blessing Bags Project, which collected items to be distributed to the homeless in Lee County.

Thanks to the generosity and caring of the faithful, more than 200 Blessing Bags were created and shared with the Lee County Homeless Coalition for distribution. The Coalition expressed their appreciation on social media on Oct. 1, 2020, posting photos of the donations received, commenting: “Thank you so much for your generosity!”

While successful, the Blessing Bag project was a challenge during the ongoing global pandemic, explained project lead Chelsea Plesko, Parish Coordinator of Faith Formation.

“With fewer people coming to church on the weekends, we got creative in spreading the word,” Plesko said. “It started as a project for our young parishioners in Faith Formation and grew from there.”

Email blasts, plus online bulletin announcements detailing the specific need and relevant deadlines, helped to spread the word. Key items needed included socks, lip balm, sunscreen, single-serving nuts and beef jerky, as well as toiletries.

A close up of a completed Blessing Bags filled with donated items for the homeless in Lee County created by the faithful of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers in September 2020.

The response was impressive as most donations were dropped off in bins at the Parish on the weekend of Sept. 20, 2020. Others were creative and ordered what was needed online and had the items delivered directly to the Parish.

“Even though this year was harder than usual for many, it did not stop our parishioners from generously donating to our annual Blessing Bags project,” said Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Hugh McGuigan, Pastor of Our Lady of Light. “I’m proud of all those involved that helped us to create over 200 blessing bags for the homeless population in Lee County.”

Because of COVID-19 precautions, all donated items were untouched for 24 hours and before there were separate sorting and packing parties. Plesko explained that in past years these would be large social gathering with refreshments, but in 2020 alterations were made to ensure the work was completed while keeping everyone safe.

Plesko said more than 50 participated in the sorting on Sept. 23 and packing on Oct. 24 as all wore gloves and masks. Children in the Faith Formation program earned service hours for their work.

Once sorted, bag fillers went from station to station to have someone deposit items into gallon Ziploc bags versus just grabbing handfuls of what was needed. In addition to the donated items, each bag included a prayer card and notes of encouragement from the parishioners.

The Blessing Bags project at Our Lady of Light is just one of many the faithful participate in each year. While the pandemic has brought its challenges to these efforts, adjustments have been made to ensure continued success.