What started as a Christmas Project in 2016 has turned into a full time job to help thousands of needy people with daily hygiene.
Kevin Garrison started the Blessing Bag Brigade while working for Amtrak in New York City and seeing so many homeless people on the streets as he made his way to and from work.
He learned that although food was being distributed to the homeless they very often were in need of basic hygiene products.
Thus began his brigade, which was supposed to end with that year’s Christmas season.
“It became a thing, I thought I did my good deed for the day,” he said, laughing.
Now four years later he has retired from Amtrak and with the help of his Veteran’s benefits from serving three years in the military he has made this his full time occupation.
In fact his fiancé, Karin, urged him to retire and do this full time.
The couple were due to get married July 18 but with Covid-19 interrupting their plans, they have postponed the ceremony until next year.
Garrison said he expected the health crisis to interfere with the brigade’s mission due to people possibly not having the means to donate items, but has found that people are still giving.
“I haven’t been doing a lot of asking, but people have been very giving – thank you God,” he said.
The Brigade operates out of a rented barn at 125 Red Hill Rd. in Holmdel Township.
They have a Facebook page, with 4,200 friends which helps get the word out about donation drops and volunteerism. They also have a website Blessingbagbrigadenj.org.
On their website they have an Amazon Wish List where people can have items delivered right to the barn.
When schools were in session Garrison would regularly visit schools explaining the program and asking if students would like to help.
He always got a positive response and kids would then begin collecting and he would go back and pick up the items. They collect hygiene products in travel sizes to make it easier for people to carry them around.
“It’s a way to be compassionate and humanitarian to those in need.”
Garrison said they distribute about 2000 bags per month in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, including at the Bradley Food Pantry and The Center in Asbury Park.
He said anyone who needs a bag will get it, including seniors, the homeless and those who are food insecure.
“If you ask for it, you usually get it,” he said.
Four years later Garrison is still in awe of how successful the organization has become.
“It’s really turned into something,” he said. “Once I put it on social media and showed where the products were going, people could see immediately what they donated was being used.”