11 Sep Helping Vulnerable Women on the Streets of Scotland
With the help of her friends, Nicki has been spreading bags of kindness to homeless women in central Scotland
I woke up this morning to hot water for a shower, clean clothes, food to eat and a safe home and neighbourhood to live in, surrounded by those I love, but for so many this is not the case. My heart has always felt stirred for those with less, those who have made wrong decisions and now live with the consequences, and those who have had rough circumstances thrown at them through no fault of their own.
Motivated by our faith and desire to love and help others, my husband and I spent six years volunteering with a Christian homeless charity in Dundee, Eagles Wings Trust, who work with those who are vulnerable, homeless, at risk of homelessness and those battling alcohol and drug addictions, through a soup kitchen van and drop-in centre. Over the six years we met and served people from every walk of life, who were facing real hardships, guilt, loss and loneliness. We met ex-business and military men, those who couldn’t read, those who were separated from family and friends, and those who were hardened by drugs and life on the streets. And yet my heart was just bursting with love for them. I hugged, prayed and served food and it was such an honour to be a part of their lives, even for a short time.
After six years, expecting our first child and with a house move imminent, we decided that our evenings volunteering on the streets of Dundee would be tricky around a newborn, so we took a step back.
Fast forward two years and that stirring in my spirit to help those on the streets had resurfaced again. One night on Facebook I came across a simple photograph with the saying, ‘Fill a handbag with essential personal items and next time you see a homeless women give it to her’. I loved the idea instantly and it stuck with me, coming into my mind again every few days. I contacted Eagles Wings to find out how many women they met through the charity each week. They said 8-10.
So, I set about writing a message to 10 friends in my town to ask if they would be interested in helping me fill 10 bags. I then thought of a few more friends who I knew would love the idea and sent the message to them. They then sent the message to their friends and by the end of the first evening 85 women had been added to a secret Facebook group called ‘An army of women spreading some kindness’. By the end of the first week those friends had begun to add their friends and the page had leapt up to 135 women. A real community was emerging. A real sense of solidarity to help women in need was so clear, and I was left in a state of awe and filled with such encouragement that others too had grasped this idea to offer some help. Except this was growing far beyond what I had imagined in such a short amount of time; I had only ever intended to fill ten bags! It seemed I needed a bigger vision and quick.
Soon donations came flooding in from many women and other community groups in the area. My spare room was pilled high with donations and every time we donated some, more came in to take their place. We decided to try to fill each bag as evenly as we could so that each women would receive a similar gift. Each bag contains essential toiletries (sanitary products, wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner), a few extras (soap, tissues, socks, a notebook and pen etc) and a luxury item (such as lipstick, chocolate or perfume). The quality of the bags and toiletries that have been donated has been amazing. Everyone has given their best rather than their leftovers. Every bag that is donated is emptied, checked and re-packed to ensure it is all too a high standard. I also designed a tag that was added to each bag that reads: ‘Please accept this small act of kindness… May it bless you and remind you that you are lovely, awesome, wonderful, and have a purpose! You matter, don’t give up!’ Lots of the testimonies we get back mention the tag and how encouraging it has been to those who have received it.
Within the last twelve months, the project has been renamed Bags of Kindness, a new Facebook page has been set up that comprises of a busy community of 1,250 supporters, we have a new website, seven drop off points, secured a small office/packing space, acquired an assistant and a group of regular volunteers, connected with, and donated, approximately 500 bags to 13 established charities across central Scotland, including Women’s Aid (who support domestic abuse victims), homeless hostels, the council’s family services and a sexual abuse and rape centre, to name but a few. They have been received so warmly and sometimes in disbelief that others are thinking of them. One recipient burst into tears when she was told she could keep the bag as well as the contents!
It has been a busy year and all of this has been done completely unpaid and in my ‘spare’ time around my part time teaching job, small design business and young family. God’s grace and provision has been amazing! I’ve done radio and TV interviews and written articles and still, what strikes me the most is the overwhelming way in which so many women have offered donations and support to help others who are struggling. We continue to receive donations and support and are planning expansion plans to donate to men too. I’m in awe of how a simple initial act of kindness and obedience to follow God’s prompting has led to the development of this wonderful project. I love being able to help practically and pray for guidance in our next steps.
Nicki Bradwell is a busy mum, teacher and designer from Scotland. She volunteered with the homeless charity Eagles Wings Trust in Dundee for 6 years and was a project worker at Gilven House, a homeless project in Glenrothes, for almost 1 year.