Compassion Bags: Teaching Children to Give

Disclosure: I am required by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to let you know I am a social ambassador for McDonald’s. I have been compensated for this compassion bags post. 

Lately, the idea of teaching our girls about compassion and giving has been weighing on my mind and on my heart. When is too young? When is too old? I figured the first introduction would likely come from a big toy clean-out at some point soon.

I was not expecting Scooter Britches to teach me about compassion earlier this week as we stocked our last round of compassion bags for the winter season.

Compassion Bags with McDonald's Gift Cards and Toiletries

Compassion bags? What are those?

Five winters ago, one of the mission groups at our church introduced us to the idea of compassion bags, or blessing bags as they called them. My friend, a member of the mission group, handed me a bag stocked with hygiene products and snacks. She asked me to keep the bag in my car and hand it out if I saw an unsheltered person.

The Hubs and I thought it was a wonderful idea so we started making our own bags. We buy the large flat-bottomed Ziploc bags and fill them with seasonal items. For winter, we fill them with knit hats, gloves and thermal underwear. (I usually buy size mediums because most of the men I see are on the thinner side. Medium seems a fairly safe bet.)

We also include a package of hand or body warmers, deodorant, lip balm, small package of tissue, bandages and other toiletries. One thing we try to include in every bag – regardless of season – is socks. I have read that socks are the one of the most needed items yet the hardest item for homeless shelters to keep in stock to for visitors. Acccording to the 2015 U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Annual Homeless Assessment Report, around 70% of the unsheltered people in the U.S. are men. This is not a figure that has changed much over the years, so we have always prepared bags with men in mind, although I do add some products for women to a couple bags each year.

Long-lasting snacks are also included. For the snacks, we usually buy granola bars, peanut butter crackers, Vienna sausages and other such things.

We keep the bags in our cars throughout the winter months. Once warmer weather approaches, we restock our supplies for summer items. However, it is much more difficult to keep them in the car in the summer with 100-degree temperatures in our area. If we have any hats, gloves or thermals leftover, we save them to be used in bags the following winter.

In addition to the items mentioned above, we include a $5 gift card to McDonald’s in our compassion bags. We originally decided on using gift cards from McDonald’s as opposed to other fast food establishments because there is typically a McDonald’s within walking distance in most downtown areas (which is where many unsheltered people are located). Ever so often, The Hubs or I will pick up a handful of gift cards from our local McDonald’s so that we always have some on hand to stock new bags. Since The Hubs often encounters unsheltered people around his work place, he keeps extra McDonald’s gift cards in his wallet so he can hand them out in passing if he cannot get to his car and get a bag. 

But what can you really get with a $5 gift card at McDonald’s?

I know what you are thinking. It’s hard to get away with much for $5 these days. But it really is possible to buy a three-item meal at McDonald’s with a $5 gift card.

Possible Meal Combinations

  • double cheeseburger, medium fries and a drink
  • chicken McNuggets, a parfait and a drink
  • McChicken, ice cream cone and apple slices
  • sausage biscuit, hash brown and a coffee

There is an endless number of food combinations one can make at McDonald’s with a $5 gift card.

Compassion Bags with McDonald's Gift Cards and Toiletries

The people who have received these bags have always been so surprised to have a random stranger hand them a “goody bag” filled with surprises. They have always seemed genuinely touched and extremely grateful. For certain, this is one project in which spending our money for the supplies brings joy.

This week, as I packed our latest bags, Scooter Britches came into the room and wanted to help. SB is quite a helper. If there is help to be given, she’s your girl. Immediately, she wanted to know what I was doing.

How do you talk about homelessness with a three-year-old?

I tried to choose my words carefully.

“We are giving small presents to some people who do not have a house,” I said.

“They do not have a house? Do they have a bed?” she said. “I have a bed. And when I bigger, I going to have a big girl bed.”

“No, these people do not have a bed. And they do not have much food either. They might be hungry.”

And here is where the story took an awesome turn that only a three-year-old can orchestrate.

A few days before this conversation, the girls had their Valentine’s parties at their day care. I had purchased a large box with 40 small bags of Disney-themed pretzels. The bags were actually designed to be given as individual Valentine’s treats with a place to write the children’s names on them. However, I sent them to be handed out as party favors/snacks instead. After the parties, the day care sent home the extra 20 or bags of pretzels that weren’t used.

SB ran straight to the pantry to get that big box of pretzels. She brought it to the dining room where we were stuffing the bags.

“I give them this,” she said before proceeding to climb up to the table. “I sharing my preckles.”

I watched as she quickly added one bag of pretzels to each Ziploc bag before carefully zipping the bag and reaching for the next one in line. How happy it made me to see her jumping right in to our five-year-old tradition of making compassion bags. She was so diligent and thorough with her job. Sharing her leftover bags of pretzels may seem like a small gesture, but kindness comes in all sizes.

Compassion Bags with McDonald's Gift Cards and Toiletries Compassion Bags with McDonald's Gift Cards and Toiletries Compassion Bags with McDonald's Gift Cards and Toiletries

In the few days since we filled our bags,  The Hubs has passed out several bags. He said one man thanked him repeatedly and told him he had not eaten in four days. When my husband told him there were snacks and a gift card for McDonald’s in the bag, the man grinned from ear to ear.

And that, my friends, is why we do this.

At dinner tonight, The Hubs was telling me that he had given compassion bags to three men this morning on his way to work. SB wanted to know what we were talking about. I reminded her about the bags she had helped me with earlier this week. Her eyes widened with excitement and she said, “And they eat my preckles, too?”

I realized that we parents don’t really have to make a big, grand point to teach our little ones to be compassionate.

Those toddler-sized hearts are bigger than we realize.

Compassion Bags with McDonald's Gift Cards and Toiletries

Sharing my compassion bags post at these lovely parties this week:

Glitter Linky (Mondays)
Turn It Up Tuesday (Mondays)
Lou Lou Girls Fabulous Party (Tuesdays)
Too Cute Tuesday (Tuesdays)
Twinkly Tuesdays (Tuesdays)
Wake Up Wednesday (Wednesdays)
Inspire Me Wednesday (Wednesdays)
Pretty Pintastic Party (Fridays)
Link Party Palooza (Fridays)
Saturday Soiree (Fridays)


  1. Life Loving says:

    These bags sound like such a fantastic idea. I really like the way you make them suitable for the season. I also think its lovely that your little one wanted to get involved, even though she didn’t fully understand. It’s so nice that she show compassion at such an early age. You’ve obviously rubbed off on her.

    Sally @ Life Loving

  2. Sarah Stockley (@kipperscurtains) says:

    This is so lovely. We have something similar in the UK called the Samaritans Purse. The kids fill a box with goodies which go out to families over Christmas. I love the idea that you have these to hand out when you see someone. My kids have regularly seen homeless people, especially in London and asked many quesions. Thanks for sharing #FabFridayPost

  3. Leanne@crestingthehill says:

    I think this is a fabulous idea and a great way to get your kids involved with seeing the needs of others and ways to meet those needs without breaking your own budget. Good on you for encouraging compassion at such a young age (there should be more of it!)

  4. Ada says:

    Ok this made me cry especially by the words of Scooter Britches. She really is a big sweet hot (using her own words). But I am also extremely touched by these kind gestures of you and your husband. Giving should start at a young age and I have taught Vivian the same by starting to pack some toys she doesn’t like or doesn’t use again and give them away to needy kids.

    This is an Excellent idea and I am inspired to make some ziploc bags like these myself. Thank you for sharing and thank you for helping the poor.

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