By Chelsea Lecce and Natalia Balcerzak
As the season brings shorter days, Fariha Sheikh brings bags of blessings.
Sheikh, a second-year criminology student, is the creator of the Facebook group RU Blessing Bags — made to raise awareness of homelessness in Toronto. Aside from educating others online about the current issue, she’s begun her process of creating blessing bags to give to the homeless.
“Many people may take for granted having those items in their homes,” said Sheikh, “But what about those who don’t have a home?”
Sheikh said she is looking to fund the bags through donations and plans to hand out the blessing bags when the weather gets colder.
Blessing bags are gallon-sized Ziplock bags filled with necessities and products for the homeless.
Most of the items in each bag are for personal hygiene, such as deodorant, toothpaste, lip balm, soap and tissues. Other survival goodies are basic things, including water bottles, band-aids, coins (for phone calls and to purchase food) and granola bars.
She started the project after taking a course at Ryerson.
“I took Homelessness in Canadian Society with [Pascal] Murphy in my first year and he inspired me a lot,” said Sheikh. “After seeing all the homeless people [at] Yonge and Dundas, I wanted to put what I had learned to work.”
Sheikh said she first heard about the idea of blessing bags through a post on Tumblr, which inspired her to put together the project.
“After seeing this brilliant idea, I thought I would bring it to the heart of downtown Toronto,” she said.
Blessing bags are big in America but when Sheikh said she Googled them in Toronto, there were only a few churches distributing them.
With Ryerson situated right by the city’s densest area of homeless shelters, Sheikh said that it was time to bring awareness to her classmates.
Although the group is not officially registered with Ryerson, she said that more people are interested in getting involved.
Sheikh said she’d like to propose the group to the student union, once there’s enough members.
“I think RU Blessing Bags is a great organization,” said Ayesha Ell, a second-year social work student. “There is a lot of stigma surrounding homelessness and people often forget that those who are experiencing homelessness are just regular people too.”