Shannon Verhelle and son Duncan Verhelle, 8, distribute bags of hope filled with everyday things and words of encouragement for those in need.

Shannon Verhelle and son Duncan Verhelle, 8, distribute bags of hope filled with everyday things and words of encouragement for those in need.

Photo by Alyssa Ochss

Boy, mom help people with bags of hope

Meet Duncan and Shannon Verhelle

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 8, 2024


ST. CLAIR SHORES — An 8-year-old St. Clair Shores boy wanted to help the people he saw in need around the area, and he came up with the idea of hopeful bags.

It all started a year ago when Duncan Verhelle noticed people who were homeless and asked his mom, Shannon Verhelle, what they could do to help.

Shannon said, during their travels, they saw a lot of people sitting near exit ramps and around town seemingly without a home.

“So we’d see a lot of people on the side of the road, and he would start asking questions like, ‘Why are they homeless? Why are they on the side of the road,’” Shannon said.

At first, Duncan asked if they could give the people they saw money, and after some thinking, they came up with the hopeful bags idea.

“It was a snow day last year where we went shopping the night before and bought a bunch of stuff and put the bags together,” Shannon said.

This year, they posted on the St. Clair Shores Michigan Residents Group public Facebook page asking if anyone would like to donate items to put in the bags. They received an outpouring of support. With the extra support and items, they increased the number of bags they made from 10 bags to 27. They still have more supplies to make bags with.

“Everything that’s here is from the community, it was, like, insane,” Shannon said. “We probably went to maybe a dozen houses.”

Duncan said they went to his teacher’s house too.

The hopeful bags are filled with necessities such as water, shampoo and conditioner as well as candy and other treats. They also write positive notes to place in the bag. Duncan said some of the people who saw the posting on the Facebook page asked if they could write notes as well.

“There was a teacher on the residents’ page that was like, ‘Hey, I teach special ed. Can those students make some positive notes for you, and I can drop them off to you?’” Shannon said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’”

The first time they gave hopeful bags to a stranger, Shannon said, the man was so happy to receive the items for him and his dog.

“We drove back around, he was giving the dog some of the treats and he had this big smile on his face,” Shannon said.

She said Duncan was nervous at first.

“But then after we gave him the bag, like, he teared up and I teared up,” Shannon said.

Shannon also said they are very careful when they give out the bags and that she reminds Duncan that they are strangers.

They want to keep the bags going in the future.

Making and handing out the bags makes Duncan feel good, which Shannon said she likes. She said it teaches him to not get mad at her when she says no to something.

“You’re lucky for what you have,” Shannon said. “Be happy for what you have because look at all these people out there that don’t even have a place to live or snacks when they’re hungry and you have it at your beck and call.”

Shannon said there are many businesses and charities looking for volunteer help. She said if you’re not sure, do what she did and post to the residents group on Facebook to find places to volunteer.

“If you put out there like, ‘Hey, I’m looking to volunteer,’ I think you’d be shocked at how many people are like, ‘Oh, we have this place and this place and this place,’” Shannon said.

Shannon thinks people should get involved with their community. Making the hopeful bags makes her feel better.

“I think if you want to do something to help others in need, go for it,” Shannon said. “Because it’s a really good feeling when you’ve known you’ve done something to help other people.”

This article is part of an ongoing series recognizing individuals for their service in the St. Clair Shores community. Do you know someone who should be featured? Email Alyssa Ochss at or call her at (586) 498-1103.