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At St. Christopher Catholic Church in Detroit, Amber Amira, 16, of Detroit and other young people fill Ziploc-style bags with soap, snacks, toothbrushes and other items July 15 to give to homeless people in Detroit. / Jordyn Hermani, Detroit Free Press

DETROIT - Toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant and water.

Many people may take for granted having those items in their homes. But what about those who don't have a home?

What started out as a random thought for 16-year-old Vivian Obia ended up being something much bigger.

Vivian is among a group of young people who decided to create and distribute what they're calling "blessing bags" through local Catholic parishes.

Each plastic Ziploc-style bag contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, a hair brush, granola bars, crackers, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and a scripture. According to Vivian, the scriptures let the homeless person know that he or she is being prayed for everyday by Vivian and her youth group, Youth Faith Activators of Christ's Teachings.

YFACT is made up of teens from churches in the Detroit area who come "together to make a difference in Detroit," Vivian said. They started distributing the bags in April.

"I noticed that during our last service event in January, called Martin Luther King Day of Service, there were a lot of people who needed assistance, and we were going to those places, but there were still a lot of people that were out there on the streets that are homeless," said Vivian, who will be a senior at Renaissance High School in Detroit in the fall.

"So I just thought, 'Hey, why not we give them something that may not seem like a lot but it would mean a lot to them?' "

The group has passed out more than 600 bags so far.

Joyce Francois, the coordinator for YFACT, said the blessing bag idea came out of an initiative in which teens were collecting spare change so they could help Core City Neighborhoods, an organization that feeds homeless people.

"Core City had run out of funds to pay for heat this winter, so the teens wanted to donate the money to get the heat turned back on," said Francois, who also works for the Archdiocese of Detroit. "They raised over $5,000 when they asked teens from all over the archdiocese to collect change in their parishes."

Months later, at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Detroit, YFACT and other youth volunteers, along with 24 children ages 5-10 from YouthWorks, a Christian service leadership program, gathered to make 240 bags for people in parishes to give to homeless people they encounter on the street.

Cousins Autumn Johnson, 9, and Donovan Johnson, 11, helped make blessing bags.

"It kind of makes me feel nice because I'm helping homeless people," said Autumn of Detroit. "I feel sad when I see homeless people because it's sad that they don't have a home and are begging for things."

Donovan, also of Detroit, said, "Poor people are getting a better life with blessing bags, and I feel like I'm being helpful and a good Christian."

Mariner's Inn, a homeless shelter near downtown Detroit, helps homeless men get back on their feet. David Sampson, its CEO, said

the efforts blessing bags will benefit many homeless people, but much more needs to be done by society. He said there were about 19,000 homeless people in Detroit in 2012.

"I think any type of tangible gesture for the homeless will benefit them," Sampson said. "However, you should give a bag, but also a resource or access to help."

Vivian said she is hopeful that what YFACTS and other volunteers are doing will help put a dent in the homelessness problem and help bless those in need.

"Honestly, when you look at the bags, they seem very simple and ... it may not seem like a lot. But for the homeless people, if they're not eating daily, they're probably not combing their hair daily or brushing their teeth," she said. "These are simple gestures that truly are a blessing to them."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Youths' 'blessing bags' offer help, hope to homeless

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