For many years the 3rd Sunday of August meant the Blessing of the Backpacks. The members of the church would be encouraged to shop the summer sales for various school supplies and colorful backpacks. We filled up about 50 in the course of things, along with socks and underwear and miscellaneous boxes of
crayons. There was incredible abundance.
And I loved it! I love shopping for school supplies. As a kid it meant a new year of adventure. As a parent, it meant the end to complaints of boredom and minor skirmishes. As someone who no longer has kids in school, I love the smell. The smell of clean and empty notebooks, the smell of a large package of crayons. I would say the smell of glue but it sends the wrong impression. It’s the newness of it all, I love that newness and the potential it implies.
Last spring, I asked the school counselor at the local elementary school if they still wanted us to provide backpacks. It seemed last summer like everyone was distributing them, and I wanted to be meeting an actual need and be respectful of the generosity of the givers. The counselor looked awkward, as if trying to figure out exactly what she wanted to say. And then she told me that while they appreciate the supplies, it isn’t what they really need.
Instead she gave me a list of personal hygiene items—shampoo, soap, shower gel, deodorant, feminine protection supplies. She said that some kids come to school clearly ungroomed. It is embarrassing for them and hard on their fellow students.
We go to that school several times a month for one thing or another, and I have seen it. Seen kids in dirty clothes and uncombed hair. Seen kids hide themselves and not engage because they are ashamed. It made perfect sense. So that is what we did. We made personal hygiene kits with soap and deodorant,
toothbrush and toothpaste. We still bought socks and underwear. We put together 35 kits and counting. The generosity of this parish always stuns me. I want to be clear that what we are providing here isn’t just shower gel. What we are offering is dignity. Every person should be able to feel good about themselves.
Every person should be able to take care of themselves. Offering dignity and self-respect, or at least the opportunity for that, it is a justice issue.
Maybe it is too much to associate love with a stick of deodorant. Maybe we can’t expect kids to make the connection between our care for them and the availability of body wash. But we hope in some way that the kids who gets these items know someone pays attention, someone wants the best for them, and that they matter. We could tell them that. But showing them by helping them to have their dignity, that seems to be really important. Please pray for these kids, and then concretely help them.