A local church community is making a difference on the streets of Orange County, one burlap bag at a time.
The small group ? which consists of five couples and operates out Mount of Olives church in Mission Viejo ? was searching for a way that it could positively impact the community.
UR Loved bag with contents.
COURTESY BRUCE CARSON
The group eventually decided on helping the homeless by making and selling to the public what they call UR Loved bags.
The bags contain items and resources for the homeless and provide a way for the community to give to those living on the streets, and they have been popular, with more than 600 being sold in 45 days.
Because the bags are in such high demand, the small group is ready to expand its efforts so that it and the community can make a difference on an even larger scale.
The UR Loved bags are small enough to be easily portable for those without a house to call their own, but large enough to hold socks, sanitizing wipes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a granola bar, Emergen-c packets, McDonald's gift certificates, and a printed tag.
The tag includes the UR Loved logo along with contact information for local organizations that provide shelter, food, mental health assistance, and job training.
Bruce Carson, who is part of the small group along with his wife Karen, is also the owner and CEO of the Irvine based print shop, The Dot Printer, which provides the bags and printed tags for the project.
Carson says the group was immediately taken by his idea of helping the homeless.
"They got excited and this excited me," Carson said. "This was not going to be done on my own. This is our group doing this to pay it forward."
Carson says that it is often hard for people to give money to the homeless because people are not always certain how it will be used. But he said that the UR Loved bags make it easier to give.
"When we encounter homeless people, most of us have a heart and we want to do something, but we are always a little suspect to give them money, because what's going to happen?" Carson said.
"You ask, 'What am I really doing? Am I helping the person or am I enabling the addiction or a bad habit?' There is always a little bit of hesitancy on the part of the giver.
So we came up with the idea to prepare what we are calling UR Loved bags and to put in contents which we specifically know that the homeless can use, receive, and appreciate."
With plans to sell the bags between church services, the group in February approached the Mount of Olives Church's council with their idea, hoping that they would allow them to sell the bags on the church's campus.
The council agreed to let the group sell the bags.
After the first day of selling the bags between four services, the group sold out of the 200 bags they had made.
The second week, the group's 200 bags sold out yet again.
The bags, which are assembled by the small group members on Carson's dining room table, have been received well not only by the community, but also by the homeless.
"People want these bags," Carson said. "People are coming back for more and buying 20 at a time and saying how they love the idea. And we have gotten feedback from homeless, some of which have said, 'Hey I've gotten 10 of these. I don't need anymore. I need money.' And others have said, 'Hey this is great. I'm wearing the socks. It's exactly what I need. God is so good. God is so great.'"
Karen Westland, also a member of the small group with her husband, Grant, said that the UR Loved bags have been popular with community members also because of the bond it brings between giver and receiver.
"We seem to have come up with an idea...helping the homeless," Westland said. "But the bigger thing is when you give something to someone, there is a dialogue. And when that engages the person who is giving with the person who is receiving, there is something that is powerful there. You don't forget those faces and you don't forget those eyes."
Because of the success of the UR Loved bags, the small group is now ready to create a non-profit organization behind the bag.
A website is in the works and the group is working closely with other Orange County faith based organizations for counsel.
The group receives donations from companies such as Xpedex, Newport Rib Company, and Thrivant, but the members of the small group provide much of the funding for the bags which sell for $5 each.
The small group is not receiving any return on the bags as they cost approximately $5 to make, and the group is aware that if they are to expand and donate proceeds to organizations that assist the homeless, such as Mercy House, South County Outreach, and Orange County Rescue Mission, they'll need assistance from the community.
The group is hoping that companies in the community might consider donating items for the bags.
The group is looking for items such as white socks, shampoo, soap, and non-perishable food. Carson says that in a perfect world Procter & Gamble or Nike would be a part of their project and give socks or toothbrushes.
"The homeless go through socks like you can't believe because they walk everywhere. And they need white socks because dark socks stain their feet almost like a tattoo. So we want to provide them with white socks. And they all have hygiene needs, so toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap are all things they can use," Carson said of items the homeless can benefit from.
As the group's efforts continue to grow, they are hoping to pack and ship the UR Loved bags to other groups which express interest in helping the homeless with the bags, including other faith-based organizations, and schools.
Westland is hoping that the UR Loved bag project expands and that it reaches out to a wide variety of different people.
For more information on the UR Loved bags, call 949-707-0446.
For those interested in purchasing a UR Loved bag, visit the Mount of Olives' coffee shop, The Hub, which is located on the church's campus at 24772 Chrisanta Dr. in Mission Viejo.
The Hub's hours are Tuesdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.