Blessing Bag Brigade participants in Visitation Parish, Brick, survey the numerous cases of water that were donated for the worthy cause. Photo from the Visitation Parish Facebook page
Blessing Bag Brigade participants in Visitation Parish, Brick, survey the numerous cases of water that were donated for the worthy cause. Photo from the Visitation Parish Facebook page

A lot more goes into each Blessing Bag for the impoverished than everyday hygiene and food items and a new pair of socks. Prayers, well-wishes and hopes for better tomorrows are also part of the package.

And on a Saturday in mid-August, hundreds of members of three parishes in Monmouth and Ocean Counties converged in their respective parish parking lots to hand-deliver the makings that filled nearly 1,700 bags for those in need.

The Supply Gathering and Packing event for the Blessing Bag Brigade took place Aug. 15 with 440 bags packed by volunteers in St. Catherine Laboure Church, Middletown; some 443 in Visitation Church, Brick, and 806 wrapped up by the crew in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

Churchgoers of all generations rallied across parish lines for one of the first interparish events since mid-March, when the coronavirus and its restrictions hit New Jersey. The gatherings brought joy to hundreds of faithful, said Jeanne Marinello, Co-Cathedral youth group coordinator and one of the Blessing Bag organizers.

“You could see the passion that went across parish lines to bring people together,” she said. “People were seeing people they haven’t seen in months, seeing them and doing good works with them. It was a thing of beauty.”

All of the parameters – facial coverings, social distancing and sanitizing – were met by each parish, she noted. “It was an outdoor event. Everyone knew the rules, all the precautions were taken, but seeing so many people unified in an event like this showed the kids especially how to keep the connection with God through service.”

“This just really hit home,” said Ann Marie Lusquinos, volunteer coordinator for St. Catherine Laboure Parish. “So many people participated, from special-needs children to very young children and on up. It was just such an amazing thing.”

About 50 people brought supplies and more participated in the Blessing Bag Brigade assembly in St. Catherine Laboure. “We had kids, we had adults,” Lusquinos said. “It was a meet-and-greet group from all over. People came from Red Bank, from Jersey City. New people are always finding us.”

It was the first three-parish event held on behalf of the Brigade, a nonprofit established in 2016 by Kevin Garrison, who grew up in St. Agnes Parish (now part of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish), Atlantic Highlands. Since then, the organization has distributed more than 70,000 Blessing Bags to those in need.

Joanne Martone, who got the Blessing Brigade ball rolling in Visitation Parish, said she loved seeing three parishes work together and as well as people from other parishes, churches and organizations.

“There were at least 75 people,” she said, noting that some also hailed from St. Dominic Parish, Brick; St. Rose Parish, Belmar; St. Peter Episcopal Church, Freehold, and the area Rotary Club. “Next time, we hope to have four parishes involved,” Martone said.

The next Blessing Bag Brigade is scheduled for Oct. 17, said Garrison, a retired Amtrak employee who runs the nonprofit on a volunteer basis. “I relate this to giving a birthday present, he said. “We get to give out birthday presents to people every day.”