Local Boy Works Year-Round to Make & Distribute Blessing Bags to Homeless
Photographer / Michael Durr
Born with a life-threatening and often fatal genetic condition, Maddox O’Connor became intimately familiar with Riley Hospital from day one. Around age 6, he began to notice the homeless man that was sitting outside the hospital’s doors each time he went for his weekly appointment. He asked his mom, Shawn, who the man was, and she provided a gentle response.
“Sometimes in life, bad things happen to good people,” she said. The family knew this fact all too well, though they never let Maddox’s frightening diagnosis define him.
“When you’re in Maddox’s situation, you have two choices,” Shawn says. “You can lie down and wait to die or rise above it, see what God has for you, and make the best of it. Maddox has always wanted to make something good out of every situation.”
Once he was old enough to read the words scrawled across the torn square of the homeless man’s cardboard box, an advocate was born. One day following his weekly appointment, Maddox told his mom, “I didn’t eat my lunch today. Can we give the hungry man my sandwich?”
After that, each week he asked his mother, “Is today a Riley day?” If it was, he’d march into the kitchen to make an extra lunch. One Friday as they were entering Riley, Maddox spotted two disheveled people standing near the doorway. Shawn noticed the distress covering her son’s face.
“I understand what those men are feeling, Mommy,” he stated softly. “I understand what it’s like to live in a world that I never asked to live in. They need to know that somebody prays for them even when they can’t see it.”
He was adamant that they do more so he suggested they create blessing bags filled with snacks and hygiene products and distribute them to the homeless community around Indianapolis. Maddox’s Mission, however, supplies more than nutrients and necessities. Maddox feeds souls by including personal messages in each bag that say things like, “Your life is important to Jesus,” “God created you because He loves you,” “You are special,” and “Your life matters.”
They began by collecting donations from family and neighbors. Shawn also created a “Maddox’s Mission” Facebook page so folks may donate if they so desire. They’ve received donations from across the country — Texas, Alaska, Florida, Alabama and Hawaii. The positive response has only spurred Maddox’s desire to do more.
“Let’s put together a million blessing bags!” he exclaimed.
Shawn proposed a more realistic number — 300. The pair finally settled on a goal of assembling 500 bags every three months, which they then take to various homeless shelters in downtown Indy. He delivers the bags to each person because he believes the personal connection is the key component of the process.
“He wants to physically hand out these bags so he can interact with people because, to him, if you leave the bags, it’s like a business transaction,” Shawn says. “He wants them to hear, ‘I care about you. I love you. I’m praying for you.’”
In the winter, each drawstring bag includes hats, gloves and scarves. In the summer, the bags are filled with sunscreen, lip balm and Gatorade.
“A lot of homeless people not only struggle with hydration but also blood sugar issues because they’re not eating on a regular basis,” says Shawn, who notes that for Maddox, this outreach is his way of dealing with the life situation that he’s been dealt.
“We’ve always tried to teach him that he’s not a victim of his circumstances— that he can choose to be joyful through the struggles,” she says.
Maddox hopes to spread that message outward via nourishment and notes. According to Shawn, the only thing that’s bigger than her son’s heart for serving is his heart for Jesus.
“He’s always had this really amazing discernment of his own faith,” Shawn says.
He got really sick at age 4 when his stomach stopped working. That was the beginning of his progression. Though his prognosis wasn’t good, Maddox stated, “It’s okay, Mommy. You didn’t know I’d be in this situation, but Jesus knew before I was even born.”
“Ever since then he’s always been extremely faithful,” says Shawn, noting that his health issues have given him a perspective that few children can grasp. In short, he believes that in life, we should love.
“When I go to the hospital, I always have my mom, my dad and my siblings to tell me they love me, but [homeless people] don’t have that,” Maddox says. “Maybe if I give them blessing bags, they’ll know I love them.”
Maddox has three older siblings who are 22, 21 and 13. The family lives in Fishers. Every few months, everyone gathers around a gigantic jar of Nutella to make sandwiches and stuff bags.
Maddox, who has aspirations to someday become an astronaut and a youth pastor, has a heart that is 100 times bigger than he is. Not only does he shower the homeless with smiles and hugs but he also doles out compliments in the aisles of the grocery store.
“Every woman he walks by, he tells her she’s beautiful,” Shawn says. “He doesn’t think twice about it because caring about people and wanting to make them feel good comes naturally to him.”
Search “Maddox’s Mission” on Facebook to find more information about how to support his cause.