To say Betsy Plante has a heart for the homeless and underprivileged in our community is an understatement. I had the pleasure of meeting Betsy at her lovely home in Bradenton to discover just what makes her Blessing Bags Project non-profit tick. What I found was a woman who has touched the lives of thousands and is often brought to tears when she talks about her experiences with the people she helps.
“It’s sad, so very sad,” she said about the plight of the homeless and the people she knows, many by name. One girl she knows cries all of the time. Another – a veteran who has cancer. A pregnant woman living in an abandoned home with no water or electricity. Yet another – a woman who was scorched from the sun sitting in a wheelchair on the side of the road with no water and a man standing behind a telephone pole ‘pimping her out.”
Betsy’s compassion for those who are less fortunate began with observing her mother, who was a special education teacher. It evolved in later years as she watched her husband’s large family at Christmas opening so many gifts they barely appreciated. She decided, rather than buying her family presents, she’d buy a coat for a homeless person instead. Christmas Day evolved into serving meals at a local church.
Born and raised in New Hampshire, Betsy moved to Florida several years ago. She was selling skin care products and went to a local networking group (SWAT) to promote her business. But what came out was, what she said God’s voice said to her, to talk about the homeless problem. She did as she was guided and received a standing ovation and many of the women were crying she said. With that, her Blessing Bags Project was born.
She devotes her guest rooms in her home to store personal hygiene items and toys for children. And at Christmas, “you can’t even walk through the house” she says, for all of the gifts that she gives to the homeless and underprivileged children in Manatee County. Adorable handmade cloth bags for children are color coordinated with stuffed animals and snacks and hygiene items. Shampoos, razors, healthy snacks, etc. are stuffed into Ziploc bags and distributed to organizations that help the less fortunate including Women in Recovery (from drugs and prostitution), Turning Point, Downtown Ministries and Hunger’s End Food Pantry. Betsy also collects clothing, but she insists that it be something she would wear herself. Anything torn or soiled is thrown away. She treats her clients with dignity. Sometimes she holds shoe drives, or puts a call out on Facebook for socks. And when she delivers her donations, she makes connections.
“If you ask a homeless person what they want most, they will likely tell you they just want you to spend some time getting to know them…too many people just want the problem to go away. But just imagine this person as a new born baby. Imagine what it’s like to be sick and not have access to medicine. Or a child coming in for breakfast and he’s filthy and has no shoes on and is going to school…”
Betsy says if she ‘won the lottery,’ one of the things that would help the homeless most is to have locker facilities. “They can’t go to job interviews carrying plastic garbage bags full of everything they own,” Betsy said. While housing would seem like a solution, she said that what is missing are supportive services teaching life skills. “The homeless often can’t adapt even if they are placed in a home because there are no transitional programs to help them adjust,” she says.
The last Christmas party for poor children was held at the Swordfish Grill where manager Bob Slicker became Santa. He pulled up on a boat filled with packages for the kids and Betsy said, again, it was a tear-filled moment, only these were tears of joy.
Betsy is busy today planning for her main fundraiser of the year, “Giving Back,” being held Sept. 14 from 6 to 10 pm at the Swordfish Grill. Tim Chandler & Randy, Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones and Ted Stevens & the Doo Shots are the musical guests. Musical Director, Leo Binetti is back again and the music is sponsored by Visit A Paradise Realty. There is a fabulous happy hour with an included drink, appetizers and beer from the Darwin Brewery. Raffle prizes, silent and live auctions are also part of the fun. Directed by Laura Bell Adams, this event will provide the necessary funds to purchase Christmas gifts for the homeless and underprivileged children in Manatee County. The event is sponsored by the Swordfish Grill, Sande Caplin & Associates and the Sarasota Post.
Please consider doing your part for this organization. The Giving Back fundraiser is $75 a ticket and can be purchased at the Swordfish Grill. For more information on The Blessing Bags Project, contact Betsy at 941-720-1720 or visit The Blessing Bags Project on Facebook or at www.theblessingbagsproject.org.
Photos by Patti Pearson and courtesy of Betsy Plante