Many of us live in cities stricken with poverty and homelessness, and the brisk winter season often compels us to help where we can. The season is also one of the busiest times of year. From gift shopping to flight delays, it can be difficult to give back to the degree we feel is necessary. Homeless helper kits offer solutions for the charitable who may be too time-strapped for traditional philanthropy. The kits — bags comprised of toiletries, protein-packed food and other essentials to hand out at a moment’s notice — can make a small difference to those with few luxuries. They make for a meaningful holiday family activity, teaching kids the value of giving. Whether you are keeping the kits in your backseat to hand out at stoplights, or donate to your local shelter, they are a simple opportunity to do your part.
Many assume homelessness means no access to running water or opportunity for basic hygiene. In fact, 65 percent of homeless Americans live in emergency shelters or transitional housing programs, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, while 35 percent live in unsheltered locations. Affording people the dignity of self-care can act as a powerful personal motivator. A toothbrush, some toothpaste, body wash and moist towelettes may go further than you know.
In 2014, 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 15.3 million children, according to the USDA. Millions of families nationwide are faced with limited availability to a nutritional diet. Many of the individuals who need the kits do not have access to stoves, can openers and microwaves, so food and snacks high in protein and other vitamins in the bags is crucial. Peanut butter crackers, fruit snacks, granola bars, dried fruit and other easily consumable foods are best.
Especially important for those holding signs during the winter months: Gloves, socks, scarves, hand/feet warmers and ponchos. Keeping warm and dry helps prevent serious illness and sustain a slice of comfort.
Feel Good Items
Remember, you are compiling these kits for people similar to you. It is possible to become homeless overnight, despite your best efforts. Many of us are an illness or natural disaster away from losing everything we have worked for. Consider what you would miss if you lost it all. Sometimes, petty comforts are much more in dire circumstances. Tossing in a few sweet treats, such as cookies or chocolate, reminds those down on their luck that they’re still loved and respected regardless of their circumstances.
About 40 percent of homeless Americans are women. Make sure to have a few kits concentrated on the particular needs of women. Tampons, Maxi Pads, shampoo and conditioner and travel-size hair brushes are hard to come by in shelters.
Regardless of what you give, chances are you’ll make a difference in the lives you touch. For less than $10 a bag and a few hours, you can get someone through the harshest season of the year.