Merrimack Valley family donates bags to those in need in memory of late son

LAWRENCE, Mass. — John Slauter quietly packs small plastic bags at his kitchen table in Lawrence. He calls them Blessing Bags and will hand them out to those in need.

“It’s extremely important to me. I don’t want to. It’s hard not to get upset,” he said.

Slauter said the anger and heartache will always be there over the death of his son, Matthew. The youngest of his three children died of a drug overdose in 2018 at the age of 22-years-old.

“That’s why we do it, to keep his spirit alive in the healthiest way possible, you know, take that tragedy and celebrate it, keep it going, keep his heart alive,” Slauter said.

Through Matthew’s memory, Slauter and his wife, Christine, make Blessing Bags for the homeless. They donate them to shelters and camps in the Merrimack Valley. The nylon backpacks contain about 25 items, including non-perishable food, bottled water, toiletries, socks, ponchos, and hand sanitizer.

“We call them Blessing Bags because I think it’s important that, no matter what’s going on in life, that you focus on the good things that you have because it’s real easy to miss those,” Christine Slauter said.

The Slauter’s said Matthew’s struggle with addiction and mental illness had him living on the streets off and on for years, so this is their way to pay it forward.

“He knew he was at fault. He cried to us, many people, many times because he knew. He would screw up and he couldn’t fix it, and he searched for so much to try to fix it. The drugs were always going to, kind of, scare us about him. Addiction is real, and addiction is very, very hard to escape,” Slauter said.

In the past year, the Slauter’s donated more than 360 Blessing Bags, including special bags for women. They give the bags out three times a year in the spring, fall, and winter seasons.

For more information on how to donate to the Blessing Bags project, contact Christine Slauter at