Months before the pandemic struck, Bethany and her mother, Colleen Moultry, were running errands when they saw a homeless person holding up a sign asking for help.
“I wanted to crack open my piggy bank and give them all my money,” Bethany told CNN.
That’s when Bethany and her mother came up with the idea to create care packages to give to the homeless.
But when Covid-19 hit, the project was temporarily put on hold — until Moultry asked Bethany what she wanted for her birthday in August.
“A child that is just about to turn six is saying they want to help people,” Moultry told CNN. “I felt like I had to give her an avenue to do that. It is not every day that you hear anybody saying that, adults or children.”
“We have talked to the homeless authority, homeless shelters and people on the street to make sure what we are putting in the bags is what they actually need,” Moultry said.
Each bag contains a handwritten note from Bethany as well as essential items homeless people need such as beef sticks, first aid, toiletries, masks, Gatorade and more.
Community comes through with donations
Things really started taking off in October, after a post on the “Pantsuit Nation” Facebook page — asking for donations for the project — went viral, garnering over 62,000 likes.
“In just one day, we had 85 packages on our doorstep,” Moultry said. “I would say 95% of that stuff is already back out with the people that need it. That is how quickly we were able to turn it around.”
Happy Bags’ reach has also made it onto politicians’ radars.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently recognized the work Bethany is doing, referencing her efforts in the state’s daily Coronavirus Updates newsletter.
Students volunteer as Happy Bags helpers
With constant donations flowing in, Moultry enlisted help from students at Bethany’s brother’s school, Matthew Reardon School for Autism.
Jack O’Connor, director of Matthew Reardon School for Autism, said that the school transformed its lunchroom into an assembly line to help with packing the bags and writing notes for homeless people.
“We have been kind of stuck in our little bubble since Covid,” O’Connor told CNN. “Getting out of the classroom and doing hands-on things can be really motivating.”
Before the pandemic, the students would take field trips to learn different job skills. O’Connor said that helping with Happy Bags has been a “great opportunity” for the students to contribute to such an “important need in the community especially at this time.”
Moultry said she has been grateful to have help, and enjoyed getting more people involved in the initiative.
In just a few months, the Moultrys have distributed over 750 happy bags.
Bethany is ‘inspiring people all over the country’
Although most of the direct distribution to homeless people is done through local organizations, Bethany’s favorite part of Happy Bags has been handing out bags herself and seeing the happiness on people’s faces.
Moultry said she plans to continue expanding the project beyond the Savannah community and wants to help Bethany pursue her other passion for helping children who are experiencing homelessness.
The two have already started working toward this goal — so far, they have given at least 80 blankets to local homeless children shelters from the donations they have received.
“It is about seeing the amount of people she (Bethany) has touched whether she realizes it or not,” said Moultry. “Bethany is the little happy bag spark that has created little sparks and fires other places, inspiring people all over the country to help people in their communities as well.”