BATH — Rebecca Bodeen remembers when her chief worries during the holiday season were how to stay fed and keep warm.

The Bath woman was homeless on and off for a few years in her 20s. And, while she’s doing better now, she hasn’t forgotten the lessons that homelessness taught her.

“I learned that homelessness does not discriminate and there were so many hardworking people who did not have a place to go. Families. Children. Victims. Addicts. The sick. The tired. The hopeless and the hopeful. Former convicts. Seniors. Veterans,” said Bodeen. “People don’t grow up dreaming of being homeless.”

This holiday season, Bodeen vowed to give back. A post on Facebook gave her an idea: hand out backpacks filled with things that most people take for granted – soap, toothbrushes, hand warmers, blankets and socks. Bodeen’s Bags of Blessings – a name coined by a friend – was born.

Her project struck a chord with people, including the Rev. Dan Coffin of the Small Point Baptist Church and his wife, Kathi. The couple secured a grant from a ministry group they belong to that provided enough money to purchase 72 backpacks and 30 cinch sacks.

“The response has been truly amazing. In just a short time we have had so many people help us. My sisters and mother contributed, friends from high school, both the Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn contributed. Dr. Cook, Betsy’s (Salon), the men and women of Small Point Baptist Church,” said Bodeen. “There have been so many times over the past few weeks I have burst into tears because so many people believe in this project.”

Bodeen and friends have filled 50 backpacks with donated items and have delivered them to local organizations such as the Tedford Shelter in Brunswick, the Bath Soup Kitchen and others.

At Tedford Housing, the bags are being added to other goods and given to individuals the organization knows will benefit from them, according to Executive Director Craig Phillips. The backpacks allow homeless people to carry their belongings during the day when the shelter is closed.

“The backpacks are very handy, obviously, to help carry things around town. It’s a very good item for us to be able to distribute,” said Phillips.

Jennifer Anderson, a friend who graduated with Bodeen from Morse High School in 1992 and who now lives in Brunswick, said she has been amazed by how many people helped with the project.

“It’s beautiful to see how many people want to do something but didn’t know how until this opportunity presented itself,” said Anderson. “Yes, it’s a simple thing – give temporary comfort to someone who looks like they might need it. My hope is that the lasting result is less temporary and less simple.”

Bodeen and friends plan to keep going with 22 more bags handed out in January. They are also putting together 30 “teen bags” that will go to local high schools.

“Along with toiletry items, the teen bags will also include Tide (laundry) pods and accessories that will allow transport easily – a cinch sack, a soap dish, toothbrush holder, etc,” said Bodeen.

Bodeen plans to keep the project going as long as she can.

“I know these bags won’t solve the problem of homelessness,” she said. “But perhaps they will keep one person warm at night. Perhaps it will give one person hope.”

Coastal Journal assistant editor Raye Shelly Leonard contributed to this report.