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The Brown Bag Lady helps homeless people in Los Angeles

Words by Tess Becker

Some people are drawn to making a difference in people’s lives. This can be as small as a paper bag lunch for someone who's homeless, and that’s something that Jacqueline Norvell loves to do.

Jacqueline is a bubbly, kind woman, full of energy and emotion. Speaking to Smiley News, she was incredibly passionate and happy and that’s the same kind of energy she brings to her work as the Brown Bag Lady

As the Brown Bag Lady, Jacqueline goes around Los Angeles, California, feeding homeless people and providing them with things that they need like socks, warm clothes, and toiletries. It all started in 2012 at Christmas, when she and her son filled up the car with meals to hand out.

“I used some of my Christmas bonus money and made a big pot of collard greens mashed potatoes and turkey,” Jacqueline tells Smiley News. “We got some to-go containers, and we stood on a street corner and passed it out, and I felt so good going but leaving I was so emotionally and physically drained.

“We could not go like this fast enough. I think that the first time I made about 75 meals and in 10 minutes, it was gone.”

From that day, Jacqueline set out to help people as much as she could. Before she started the nonprofit officially, she would ask around her office for small donations from her coworkers or loved ones, just scrounging up whatever she could.

In 2014, Brown Bag Lady was official and she was up and running. 

“It started in my two-bedroom apartment,” Jacqueline says. “Volunteers would come over and we'd hang out and we're playing music. I don't want to say it was fun, but it was fun.”

It wasn’t all smooth sails though, as early in the process Jacqueline was evicted, and they struggled to drum up enough funds for operation. But somehow, they kept on going.

“We’ve just been like The Little Engine That Could,” Jacqueline says.

Since their inception, they’ve helped around 90,000 homeless people in a county that only reports about 69,000 unhoused people – meaning that the Brown Bag Lady has reached most people in the county at least once. 

Jacqueline owes all her success with Brown Bag Lady to her hard work and dedication, never giving up on the project.

“I don't know anybody famous. It's not like my uncle is Quincy Jones and he's like, here's $100,000, go play,” she says. “I've been doing this is blood, sweat, and tears and I have hustled up on every donation.”

That hustle has manifested as multiple talk show appearances on things like Ellen and the Kelly Clarkson Show, as well as partnerships with the shipping giant Amazon and skate shoe brand Vans. Vans in particular donated 3,000 pairs of shoes for Jacqueline to give out.

“It's amazing. It really is, and I feel like when people follow along, they're like, ‘Okay, this is a real deal,’” Jacqueline says. “It's not like twice a year I'm going out. We do stuff all the time.” 

When referencing how she feels about her work she brings up a quote by the author Edmund Burke saying, ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’

“It’s just baby steps,” she says. “Keep water in your car and offer a homeless person a bottle of water. Get your kids or your nieces and nephews together and go to the 99-cent store and get Chapstick and a granola bar to give out.

“One person can make a difference, and every person really should try.” 

If you want to support the Brown Bag Lady be sure to donate or find out how to get involved on their website.

This article aligns with the UN SDG No Poverty.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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