I know many people feel like it's a bad idea to give homeless individuals cash - and in some areas it can actually be dangerous for them. So what do you do when you happen upon someone in need and you don't want to give cash? Obviously there are lots of options - drive through McDonalds, buy them some bread, give them your coat... And all of those are GOOD options! But I always feel like I could do more! What things do these people really need? What types of things can actually help them survive and possibly even thrive? Well, food is always a good option, but what about clothes, toiletries, information on how to get help...
Often time I'll hear people say things like "I'm not helping them, they need a job!" or "The only thing I'm giving them is a job application!" Which I've always found to be very angering. Fact is, there ARE individuals who are choosing to be homeless because of addiction or other issues. But the majority are simply people down on their luck. Many lost their jobs and then their homes due to company cutbacks and/or even their own health issues.
I've worked with a few charities over the years that aimed to help those in need. Through them I have met some wonderful people who, through unfortunate events, had found themselves living on the bottom of society. One woman who was injured in a car accident and couldn't work for nearly a year. She lost her job and her home and ended up living in a shelter with her three children. Another woman had been in an extremely abusive relationship. She was pregnant with her third child when her husband landed her in the ER. She had no family and, thanks to her husband's control of her, no friends that could help me. She had no job and her name was not on any of their property or bank accounts - he controlled it all! When she was in the ER a caseworker convinced her to move in to the local women's shelter, which was forced to close weeks after she moved in. She found herself pregnant, homeless and running for her life from a man she knew would kill her. Just last month my mother met a local family who's apartment building had been condemned. They are low income and had just 2 weeks to vacate the property before the building is boarded up. Both husband and wife work, but minimum wage doesn't pay enough for rent in most places. And they have three young children. I do not know if they found a place to live in time, if not, it's probable that they are living in their car. Which is a thought that brings tears to my eyes. A neighbor of mine is never more than one accident away from homeless. She and her husband are raising their young grandchildren and rely on disability checks, welfare and the kindness of others to get by. These are not lazy people by any means, in fact she can be found every day, walking her grandchildren a mile and a half each way to go to pre-school. But due to her health, she is not able to work and her husband is in a wheelchair.
The reason I share these stories is because I need to illustrate just how some of these people find themselves on the street. It's not laziness, it's not entitlement, it's usually because they haven't had another choice. Moreover, these people aren't usually looking for a hand-out, but a hand up! But our society is set up to stop those on the bottom from clawing their way back up. You can't get a place to live without a job, and you can't get a job without a place to live... Social services are stretched to far and are always the first government programs to be cut... There are other charities and groups out there to help, but often times these people have no way to even find out where they are. Libraries often have the information, but will ask those who are visibly unclean or have an odor to leave.
So how can we help these people? A trip to McDonalds just doesn't seem to fill the need, does it? But at the same time, unless your name is Bill Gates, you can't give them all homes and jobs either. But what CAN you do? Well, blessing bags are a great way to help!
What is a Blessing Bag you ask? It's a small bag of items that those in need can use to help stay healthy and possibly get back on their feet. I will never go another day without at least a few in my car in the case that I find someone in need!
What kind of stuff can you put in a Blessing Bag?
Here are just SOME ideas!
- Listings for shelters and aid locations in the area.
- Coupons for free coffee/tea at a local business (these can usually be bought very cheap, in bulk, around Halloween & Christmas)
- Raisins or other dried fruit
- "Lunchbox" sized fruit cups or applesauce
- Granola Bars
- Miniature Toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hand sanitizer, soap, etc.
- Phone Card
- Lighter or Matches (many people light small fires to cook or keep warm)
- Travel Medicaitons - Tylenol, Rolaids, Vitamins, Sore Throat Drops etc.
- Gloves or Socks
Think about the people in your area and the needs they will have - if you live in Florida, gloves are less of a need. And keep in mind that you don't want things to go bad in your car before you can give them out, so things like fresh fruit may not be a good idea unless you know you'll be giving them out within a day or two.
**Love this idea and want to do something BIG? Talk to friends and family about making a large batch of these up to give away at a local shelter! You could even get small local businesses involved by asking for donations or coupons for goods.**