While most kids are crafting their wish lists to Santa, carefully brainstorming which toys and video games they want this year, 10-year-old Hannah Berger has been busy compiling something a little different – food for the homeless.
Since August, the Valley Elementary fifth-grader and Bensalem resident has personally delivered more than 100 “Blessing Bags,” comprised of sandwiches, gloves and feminine products (when applicable), to individuals living on the street in Philadelphia.
This selfless initiative of Berger began unexpectedly in the summer, when she and her mother Candice were driving home from a Trenton Thunder game in New Jersey. On the Philadelphia side of the bridge, Berger spotted a man clutching a sign that read “homeless and hungry.”
Instead of simply ignoring him, as most passersby probably did that day, Berger pleaded with Candice to let her help. After waving the man over to the car, Berger handed him all that she had – $2 and a half-filled bag of Goldfish left over from the game.
“When we started to pull away, he was eating the Goldfish and smiling,” Berger reflected.
Though Candice was proud of her daughter, she thought this act of giving was a one-time thing. But she couldn’t have been more wrong.
“That’s all she talked about for two weeks,” Candice said. “I guess it was the realization that people don’t all have what she has, per se. We reside in Bensalem, but we don’t necessarily see them [the homeless] as much in the Bucks County area.”
With some financial assistance from her mother, Berger has since packaged 160 “Blessing Bags” for homeless in the city. Each brown bag has an inspirational message from Berger written on the front (“Don’t give up,” “Someone cares”), and includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bottle of water, pretzels and, the newest addition, hats and gloves.
The idea for winter gear stemmed from one drop-off visit on a particularly rainy, chilly day. Berger inquired of Candice how the homeless stay warm in freezing conditions. Candice explained that while shelters are available, many choose to remain outdoors for various reasons. Once she heard this harsh reality, Berger knew she had to do more, and wiped the local dollar store shelves clean of cold weather accessories.
“It’s amazing to see the compassion that she has with it now. This is a new drive for her. So to see how much she’s pouring into it, and then each time she wants to go back down, she’s like, ‘We have to make more. There’s still more people, mom,’ ” Candice said. “It’s touching because I don’t ever think I was that compassionate about something as a kid.”
In a few short months, #HannahHelpsTheHomeless has gained more traction than the Bergers ever thought possible. Candice, a nurse at Temple University Hospital, rallied her colleagues to the cause, with one physician donating $100. In March, Berger’s Girl Scout troop (based out of Russell C. Struble Elementary) has plans to help her expand the project.
In addition to the items previously mentioned, donations of money, gift cards, razors, soap, hand sanitizer and other toiletries are being accepted on behalf of Berger at the Bensalem Township Municipal Building, 2400 Byberry Road, Bensalem through Dec. 13, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
All donations will then be sorted and bagged by Berger, who plans to make another drop-off trip. Her intention is to continue her efforts beyond the holiday season.
“Her aim is to do it once or twice a month, and she enjoys it. She enjoys talking to them,” Candice said, adding how her daughter’s favorite part of the experience is seeing the recipients eating what she handmade for them. “This is her first time really committing to something and really being overly excited about doing for others, so I think that this is a good thing for her. This was self-driven, so I think that’s why she’s so committed to it.” ••
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org