Community donations help fill blessing bags distributed to those experiencing homelessness in Ardmore

Sierra Rains
Lorenza Hernandez, a client at the Grace Center, holds a blessing bag that was gifted to her on Monday. Many community organizations donated items to the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma, which were used to fill blessing bags for individuals experiencing homelessness in Ardmore.

A pair of socks, a toothbrush and a tube of tooth paste may seem like simple, everyday items to many, but for individuals like Brett Ishcomer receiving those items this year was a true blessing. 

Ishcomer is one of many clients at the Grace Day Center in Ardmore that received a holiday care package on Monday. The bags were filled with several donated items beneficial to those experiencing homelessness or living in extreme poverty. 

“It has a lot of good things that need to be used, it’s good stuff,” Ishcomer said. “We don’t normally get stuff like that and it really is a blessing to get a toothbrush and toothpaste and socks, and snacks and everything — there was also a blanket in there too.”

Grace Center Executive Director Laura Akers said the nonprofit organization looks for ways to celebrate the holidays with its Day Center clients each year. Clients also received a hot breakfast on Monday, and the rest of the blessing bags will be distributed on Tuesday.

“We like to celebrate the holidays with our clients and recognize them during this time of year,” Akers said. “Everybody else is getting together and getting gifts and enjoying a nice meal, so this is our way of doing that with our clients.”

Many churches, businesses and community organizations have regularly come to them with donations for the past few years in December. Each organization contributes to a different aspect of the blessing bags. 

Groups like the Ardmore FOP Lodge provided mints, toothpaste and toothbrushes, while the Camp Fire Adventure Club donated hand warmers and the First Presbyterian Church provided gloves, beanies, and the blessing bags themselves. 

Other community organizations also contributed socks, lip balm, underwear, blankets and snacks like granola bars and cheese crackers — all amounting to around 50 bags for the center to pass out. 

Putting together these care packages would cost the Grace Center thousands of dollars on its own and Akers said the community’s donations make it so the organization can have a greater impact. 

“It’s also important to help people feel like they’re a part of the solution,” said Anthony Garringer, Assistant Director of the Grace Day Center. “Homelessness is not just one person’s problem, it’s a community-wide problem. It takes all of us to be part of the solution, even if it’s just giving a few items for a blessing bag.” 

Akers said the blessing bags will provide some of the basic necessities for clients while the center is closed on Christmas Day. “We reopen on the 26th but it can be difficult to go a day without brushing your teeth or having some peanut butter crackers,” Akers said. 

Garringer said they have also had many private individuals donate items throughout the month. Clients staying outside of the center woke on Monday morning to find several cartons filed with water bottles and other items anonymously delivered over the night. 

“This December we’ve been so blessed,” Garringer said. “We’ve had so many private individuals, people from various recovery groups, who have come and brought food for our clients and things like that. I think it helps our clients so much just to know that people are still thinking about them.”

The holiday season can be a tough time of year for individuals experiencing homelessness or living in extreme poverty. Akers said the staff at the Grace Center has noticed many difficulties for clients as any holiday approaches — whether it’s Christmas or Mother’s Day. 

“Statistically we do know that suicide rates go up exponentially and many of our clients have overlapping trauma,” Garringer said. “So holidays, for a lot of people, can be trigger points if they don’t have their children, they had a loss — any number of these overlapping traumas can affect people.”

Ishcomer said he recently experienced a loss in his family, but celebrating the holidays with the staff at the Grace Center and receiving a care package helps lessen some of the difficulties he and many others face during this time of year. 

“I lost my parents a few years back, so I don’t have them,” Ishcomer said. “It does help me get through certain things because you know there’s people out there that do care, genuinely care.” 

Garringer said the organization is founded on Christian principles, and each Christmas is a reminder of the love and grace that was extended to baby Jesus, who was also homeless. By caring for each homeless person, the community extends that same love and grace, he said. 

“That’s something that we can do all year round and I hope that the community members would remember that’s a little bit of Christmas they can take with them all year round, is being of service to the poor and needy in our community,” Garringer said.