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Group Finds It Better to Give to the Homeless

Brentwood-based The Giving Spirit once again assembled and presented survival kits to homeless people throughout Los Angeles.

The effort started in 1999 with four guys in a living room, talking about what they could do to make the world a better place.

Tom Bagamone and his friends collected $2,400 and built 40 survival kits for homeless people and gave them out during the holiday season.

The friends have moved on, but the organization, The Giving Spirit, has not only grown, on the weekend before Christmas, over 1,200 volunteers assembled and distributed approximately 2,750 duffle bags filled with food, personal items, emergency blankets and a host of other items necessary for surviving on the streets of Los Angeles.

"We're hoping that this bag of goods will help them focus their energy on getting a shower and getting a job rather than just getting some food," said Mark Sleeper, the head of the outreach and distribution committee.

Sleeper explained that after each bag is assembled, volunteers scatter throughout Los Angeles and even into the Inland Empire.

"A volunteer hands each and every bag to a homeless person," Sleeper said, describing the transaction as a moment of compassionate, non-judgmental connection. Volunteers will chat briefly with the homeless person, as well. "That time spent with a homeless individual is many many times a bigger gift than the bag of stuff."

The group raises funds to buy the items for the survival bags so that each bag is identical. They also assemble what they call toddler bags, including diapers and wipes, for homeless families.

Sleeper has heard criticisms that efforts such as that provided by The Giving Spirit can further the homeless problem by enabling people to stay on the streets and not get help.

"That perception is out there and I hear it a lot," he said.

But in response he pointed out that there are an estimated 50,000 homeless people on the streets at any given time in Los Angeles and only 2,500 shelter beds.

"The reality of the situation is much different than the perception," he said, acknowledging that there is a small subset of homeless people who are resistant to being helped. Still, "there's an awful lot of homeless that are not choosing to be out."

This year, he said, it seemed like there were a lot of "newly-minted" homeless, including moms with children living out of their cars."

The Giving Spirit also does a second distribution in June, focusing on teens and women. For this most recent distribution, Sleeper said that the group raised about $250,000.

"We do get some in kind donations from different manufacturers," Sleeper said. "And we write grants so we get some grant money."

But most of the group's budget comes from donations of $60 or less.

People interested in donating can go to the group's website, TheGivingSpirit.org

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