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Gift bags will help the homeless

POLK COUNTY -- Dallas resident Katie Newman had been contemplating an idea to help the homeless for quite some time.

December 11, 2012

POLK COUNTY -- Dallas resident Katie Newman had been contemplating an idea to help the homeless for quite some time.

On Thanksgiving, she decided to discuss the developing plan with her husband, Dustin Newman, a sergeant with the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

Her idea was to take reusable grocery bags and fill them with items such as gloves, hats, socks and snacks -- small, but necessary items -- and give them to those living on the street just before Christmas.

A former probation officer, Katie Newman said she had plenty of contact with the county's homeless population through her line of work, but much of it was negative.

However, since leaving the field four years ago, her perspective has changed, in large part due to becoming a Christian.

Suggested items for the gift bags to help the homeless.

Suggested items for the gift bags to help the homeless.

"God has completely changed my heart for the homeless," she said. "It just came to me one day as I was driving and I just knew I had to give it a try."

Dustin Newman said he thought the idea was more than just a creative way to help those in need: It was an opportunity. He suggested Katie be in charge of collecting the bags and the sheriff's office be responsible for distributing them.

Most of the time, sheriff's deputies are removing homeless people from a particular area. He said the project would give the sheriff's office a chance to do something positive for the county's homeless population.

Newman pitched the idea to Sheriff Bob Wolfe, who approved it, and the collection began.

Soon, members of the couple's church and others in the community volunteered to donate complete bags. Fred Meyer has even donated reusable grocery bags for the project.

"It's amazing how many people have responded," Katie Newman said.

The objective is to keep the bags portable, so in most cases blankets and jackets wouldn't fit. Instead, people should consider including items that may be overlooked through other donation programs.

Dustin Newman said the giveaway will likely concentrate on West Salem's Wallace Marine Park, where many homeless people stay. However, the office will try to contact as many people as possible throughout the county.

Newman asked the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Salem to begin informing people who may need a care kit where to go on the delivery days: Dec. 23-24. Any leftover bags will be donated to the mission.

So far, the couple has deemed the collection a success, but they are asking for even more support.

"We want to collect as many bags as we can," Dustin Newman said.

Katie Newman said, based on the outcome this year, she's hoping to make the collection an annual event.

"I already want to do it again next year and have tons of plans cooking in my head," she said.

You Can Help

* The Polk County Sheriff's Office is asking people to fill reusable grocery bags with items to make the winter months a little more comfortable for homeless individuals. Completed bags can be dropped off at the Sheriff's Office, 850 Main St., Dallas, until Dec. 20. For more information: Sgt. Dustin Newman, 503-623-9251.

A list of suggested items:

* Clothing and rain and cold weather gear: rain ponchos, stocking caps, gloves, scarves, hand warmers, socks, underwear and bandannas.

* Toiletries: Band-Aids, tissues, wash clothes, travel-sized shampoo, soap, combs or brushes, deodorant, tooth brushes, toothpaste, Chapstick, wet wipes.

* Other necessities: batteries, candles, matches or lighters, flashlights, plastic baggies of all sizes, note pads and pens, sewing kits, candy and ready-to-eat-snacks, decks of cards, and books.