This is the time of year for blessings, and a junior at DeSoto High School delivers them each holiday season.
LaRyn Baylei Johnson is the creator of Baylei’s Blessing Bags. Every year, she collects donations, fills backpacks with toiletries, snacks, hats, and gloves, and goes to downtown Dallas and under bridges between Desoto and Dallas, handing them out to people experiencing homelessness on Christmas Day.
This is her fourth year doing this charitable work. It’s a tribute to her father, Elmer Brown, who passed away in 2019 from pneumonia.
“My parents always taught us to be mindful of the less fortunate. We would go out on Thanksgiving and Christmas and feed the homeless as a family or volunteer at a shelter with my church or scout troops,” Baylei said. “We were at the Dallas Life Foundation when my dad took his last breath on Nov. 23, 2019. We did what he wanted us to do.”
In the first year, she delivered 25 bags. Last year, she helped over 125 adults and children.
“I feel like the homeless are people too. Sometimes it’s not their fault that they are in a bad situation,” she said. “I want them to know that they are not forgotten, and I think of them if no one else does.
“My dad had a big heart, so I want them to have a piece of his heart too.”
Having served at the Dallas Life Foundation with her family, Baylei said she would see many people walking or sleeping on the streets and under bridges on the way. This is why she chose to help in such a way.
“Desoto doesn’t have many people laying on the streets like Dallas does, so that’s why I chose that area,” she said.
Baylei posts on social media asking for donations. Some folks respond, and others send well wishes. For the most part, she uses her allowance to buy the supplies, and her mother helps her shop.
“I can always use more help because I want to reach more adults and kids. This year’s goal is 175,” she said.
Baylei comes from a family with a history of giving.
“I heard stories of how my grandparents would take in relatives and care for them until they could get on their feet so they wouldn’t be homeless. Our family is big on community service and helping those less fortunate,” she said. “It spills over into our church. It’s called Bethesda Community Church because it’s for the community.
“My brother and my mom helps me pack the bags, and since I don’t drive, she takes me. And my brother is an offensive lineman for DeSoto, so he acts as security,” she added with a smile.
Baylei said she chose to hand out the gifts on Christmas day because, well, it’s her Christmas gift to them. She also puts a small toy inside the bags for the children.
“I get excited opening a gift at Christmas, so I feel like that’s my gift for someone who may not otherwise open one,” she said. “Last Christmas, a little girl opened her bag and was so excited over pink and white socks instead of the Teddy bear inside. She sat down and removed her shoes; her socks were full of holes and didn’t cover her feet.
“That’s the real meaning of Christmas to me, thinking about someone other than yourself.”
Baylei simply loves giving. Admittedly, it’s a challenge sometimes to get all the bags packed and out on time, but she said it’s worth every ounce of effort.
“When I hand a bag to someone, and they open it and put on the gloves or hat, and they smile, I smile,” she said. “I feel like it took a little worry off of their shoulders because they at least have something to eat and water for at least two days.”
Baylei would like to see the project continue even after she’s gone off to college – and beyond.
“I would really like to turn it into a nonprofit that will keep going. Until then, I will keep doing it with my mom and brother and any other family that comes through,” she said.
All the while, she takes comfort in helping others and knowing her father is smiling and proud of her.
“I think he would say a good job, and he would be right there with us handing out the bags,” she said. “He liked to cook, so he would probably have a hot meal for them too.”