Jada Garza holding a Happy Bag she distributes to Sacramento’s homeless residents.
Jada Garza is a lot like the other 4th graders at her elementary school. She’s got two brothers and likes emojis. She wears ice cream cone earrings and smiles when she thinks about becoming a lawyer when she grows up. But there is one major difference between Jada and her classmates; she’s probably the only one who thought to herself that it was her duty to try and help the homeless people she frequently saw in her neighborhood and in the area around her local church.
On any given night, over 2,500 people in Sacramento sleep outdoors. They are part of a growing homelessness epidemic- a complicated problem that local government agencies and nonprofit organizations have been struggling to deal with for decades. But for one 9-year-old girl, part of the solution to this humanitarian crisis starts with simple gestures and a self-staining outreach program which she designed and was kickstarted by a Sac BHC Mini-grant.
“If I was in that situation, I would want someone to help me out,” says Jada. “I hope that homeless people could find a job or get some money so they can get help. I’ve seen homeless people all my life and I wanted to give them something to make them happy.”
With that idea, “Happy Bags” were born. The bright yellow lightweight knapsacks are stocked with all sorts of things a regular person might take for granted but and homeless man or woman could appreciate. There’s socks, a comb, hand lotion, shampoo, and conditioner. A toothbrush and toothpaste. Even used books are added to the mix for a little mental respite.
Jada brought the idea for Happy Bags to Pastor Karen Abrego at Ebenezer Christian Center off of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in South Sacramento after a lunch date inspired the two of them to take action.
“Jada told me about a homeless woman who had a dog and lived behind the restaurant we were visiting,” Pastor Karen recalled. “I could tell that Jada was capable of making a strong connection with people in need, and I instructed her to begin writing up a proposal to take before Kim Williams for a mini-grant.”
Jada hand wrote a detailed plan of action. She outlined what would be needed for each of the Happy Bag’s contents. She assigned tasks to members of her family to help share the workload; her little brother would be the mascot for the venture and her dad would design the logo. She even came up with a budget to help make the whole idea sustainable.
Each Happy Bag is available for a suggested donation of $5; just enough to cover the cost of production of each unit. After startup expenses were obtained, each bag’s sale to members of the community allows Jada to in turn buy more bags and keep the inertia of her original idea moving in the right direction. The sensible proposal was a no-brainer for Williams to fund, and as a surprise to Jada, at a recent meeting she was presented with a $500 check to get Happy Bags off the ground. Her church matched the contribution, bringing her grand total to $1,000.
Already, area residents are seeing the yellow bags in the hands and on the backs of members of the homeless population and Jada’s congregation is purchasing the Happy Bags en masse and distributing them all over the county. One parishioner alone bought 20 bags, filling the trunk of his car after a recent church service.
“You should try doing something special and nice for people you don’t know,” suggests Jada to her peers. “You don’t know how it will make you feel. For me, it’s been very rewarding.”
For information about obtaining Happy Bags from Jada, please contact Karen Abrego via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.