University Staffer Creates Thoughtful Gift That Keeps on Giving to Homeless
By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
It’s always within arm’s reach, right by the passenger seat, when Amy Kaczmarski pulls up to a stoplight and someone approaches her car.
Faced with that situation, Kaczmarski says she always wants to be prepared. So about two years ago she decided to do something about it. She equipped herself with what she thought the situation called for:
A water bottle, some lip balm, Band-Aids, cough drops, gloves, vitamin C, a granola bar, warm socks, a wash cloth and a paperback version of the New Testament – all packaged neatly in a bag with a laminated tag citing Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Kaczmarski gives out a bag whenever she runs across a homeless person or someone asking
for assistance on the side of the road. And each time she does, Kaczmarski makes sure she has another bag ready for her car the next time she goes out.
“I used to give them cash, or sometimes we’d go buy them food,” says Kaczmarski, an administrative assistant to GCU President and CEO Brian Mueller. “But I thought, ‘You know, I wish I could give them something they really
need, other than money.’ And all these ideas came in my head that they could use, like socks
“I was looking through the Bible for a verse that,
if I were homeless, I would want to read, and Jeremiah 29:11 automatically came into my mind. God has a plan for everybody, and I think somebody who is on the streets just needs to be reminded of that.”
Expanding on a great idea
Kaczmarski has been handing out the bags for two years on her own. This Christmas, however, she said the Lord had bigger ideas. She said He made it clear that, in lieu of giving Christmas gifts to coworkers and friends, He wanted her to give them a bag that they could, in turn, deliver to a needy person.
So she handed out 21 bags as gifts to GCU coworkers on Friday morning, then took an additional 30 bags to a church youth event that night.
The response was overwhelming.
“What an absolutely fabulous idea, especially to do it around Christmas,” said Bill Jenkins, GCU’s vice president of communications and public affairs, after receiving the bag as a gift. “I immediately went over to Amy’s desk and thanked her for the thoughtful idea.”
Jenkins recently had purchased a new flat-screen TV for his home and was frustrated Friday morning that it still was not hooked up properly.
“Then you walk into work and the first thing you get is this very thoughtful gift. That puts life’s problems into perspective,” Jenkins said. “My problem is a new flat-screen TV that doesn’t work, and there’s this homeless guy sitting on the corner with nothing. I said to myself, ‘Shame on you.’”
Maribel Navarro, a receptionist in the administrative office, was so touched by the gift that she plans to create her own bag to have on hand after she gives away the one Kaczmarski prepared.
“That is such a cool thing to do,” Navarro said. “And the things she puts inside are things that everyone would need if they were homeless.”
If anyone who received the gift from Kaczmarski wants another bag after handing out the first one, she will be happy to make them another. In fact, Kaczmarski says she’ll make a bag for anyone at GCU who wants one.
She initially made 70 bags for the Christmas season, and has only a handful left, but she is prepared to get the assembly line going again. Her children – Tyler, 15, and Payton, 13 – help package the gifts; her Aunt Joyce buys clearance items such as wash cloths for the baskets; and a cousin who sells Avon donates the lip balm.
If anyone would like a bag, or wants to donate items or money to help create them, they can contact Kaczmarski at email@example.com.
Making it personal
Kaczmarski still remembers the first bag she handed out.
It was at the off-ramp of Loop 101 and Warner Road in Chandler. She pulled up and saw a man on the side of the road selling bumper stickers that read “It could be a lot worse” for $5.
Kaczmarski rolled down the window, reached across to the passenger seat, and handed the man a bag.
“I think his name was David,” Kaczmarski said. “He was just a happy, jovial guy. It seemed strange that he was happy to be standing on the corner.”
Then there was Chris, a homeless man at Kiwanis Park in Tempe. Kaczmarski and her children had gone to the park to have lunch and spotted Chris right away.
“My son said, ‘Hey, do you have any of the bags?’ He went to get one and I said, ‘Why don’t you guys go give it to him?’ His name was Chris; I will never forget him. He didn’t just grab it. He opened up the bag and took every single item out and was just so, so blessed. It was awesome. My kids spent a good five minutes with him.”
Kaczmarski intentionally chooses the left lane when exiting an off-ramp on a freeway, even if the line of cars is longer, just in case there is someone asking for assistance. And she always asks them their name.
“The first time I asked somebody that, they were shocked, like, ‘Why do you want to know my name?’” Kaczmarski said. “It’s just a personal thing. Being personal is really important to people. And I tell them that I want to pray for them.”
Once, Kaczmarski was late for work and got off Interstate 17 at Camelback Road when she spotted a man in the median (not on the left side of the road where she usually finds them).
“I went right past him,” said Kaczmarski, and immediately she heard God telling her to go back. “I’m like, ‘Really? Seriously? I’m almost to work and I’m late already.’ I thought there’s no way he’s still going to be there. He probably already crossed the street and I’m not going to be able to get him.
“But I turned all the way around and he was still there. I didn’t get his name because he didn’t speak English, but I gave him a bag.”
Kaczmarski said she has a “love for the people in this area.”
“If you look at Camelback when you are driving, there are so many needy people in this area. They’re everywhere, though. If you look, you will see needy people everywhere. … So, if you have one of these (bags), it’s real easy to help them.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.