I have a problem. It’s not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things. I once did a lot of traveling for my job and as such I would enter areas that had a higher preponderance of homeless waiting at corners or freeway exits. Every time I would drive into our Union Station, my heart would ache for the homeless I saw. I knew many were former soldiers, many were those down on their luck, many who may have challenges I knew nothing about. So I would hand out my cash…all my cash.
As I said, not such a big problem in the grand scheme of things…giving your cash to those that needed it more. But when you do this on a fairly regular basis, you start going over budget and that can be a problem. At the end of the month, telling a bill collector I gave their money to a homeless man who needed it more wouldn’t cut it. So, I stopped carrying cash. My problem seemed under control. But when I saw a homeless person, especially if their sign said Vietnam Veteran, my heart ached. And if by some chance I had cash on me, it went right out the window to them. I knew that could be me. And if it had not been for two parents that, with a little luck and amazing friends and family, pulled us up by their bootstraps, I could have been on that corner.
Once when our house was burned down and we did not have insurance…we lost everything. We, my two brothers, myself and my parents, slept in a friend’s trailer…the kind you attach to a car…until my parents could find an alternative. The second time, I was older and my mother and I were fleeing an abusive situation. Thanks to family we had a roof. My mother, who has a master’s degree, a lifetime credential in teaching and decades under her belt of experience, went 6 months without a job, and that was when jobs were a lot easier to find. Had we not had family, I can only imagine what and where we would have ended up. So I fully understand the concept of “There but the Grace of God go I.”
I have this philosophy that works for me. It really doesn’t matter to me what they are going to do with the money, it matters that I gave it to them. I did what I could to help.
The reality that people look at our homeless differently was not new when the topic came up in my small group one year at bible study. But the conversation would have a lasting effect. My group of ladies was awesome and each had their own stories of challenges, and each a giving heart. But what I learned in that conversation is many people fear.
Here’s what I think…this is just my opinion. I think many people do not like to look at the homeless because they fear that it could be them. I think many people try to rationalize and separate themselves from the homeless’ situation. I remember hearing one person say, “I hate it when they have their kids with them. I don’t understand why they have to have their kids with them.” I remember thinking…”They are homeless. Where are their kids supposed to be?” But I knew she felt uncomfortable because it is harder to see children in that situation. Children are innocent and can’t do anything about it but I think many people like to believe that adults can. In reality, sometimes they can’t. Bad set of circumstances, perfect domino’s falling down one after another or even poor decisions. And one thing is very true. Money buys you options and choices. When you are poor, options and choices are limited. Getting up from being poor is hard.
I also think many of us, me included, understand how hard it is to earn a dollar and we want to know that it is going to be put to good use, not be wasted. Wasting the dollar is like wasting the time and effort it took to make it. As such, it may be difficult for some to just hand a person cash because we want to know it’s being used prudently.
The conversation sparked a fire for me to think. It made me want to find a solution on how to help when I say a sign that said, “Hungry. Anything will help.” without just handing out cash.
I remember seeing earthquake preparedness bags on a blog (sorry I can’t remember where). I also love shopping at Dollartree and 99 Cent Store because of how much food and products you can get for a fraction of the price. So I had this idea. I would make Homeless Snack Food Bags! My husband and mom loved them so much when I was done, they both wanted some for their cars!
Here’s the idea: For about $2 a bag, I can hand someone who needs food a bag full of food and drinks. The items are portable so they are easy for them and me to carry. They are individually wrapped items so I don’t have to worry about things expiring fast and they can feel safe eating. And my $2 per bag buys far more variety and immediate food than me handing them $2. Plus, if you aren’t comfortable giving out money (or you are like me and my problem), you aren’t handing out money and you know exactly how the cash was used!
Here’s how you put them together:
First, you shop. I like to try to get a wide variety of things – a protein, a fruit, a sweet, a savory, etc. I make about 6 packets (homeless bags) at a time so nothing goes bad. I find that the supplies for 6 bags costs me around $11-$13 total depending on whether or not I had some supplies left over from previous rounds. That makes each bag around $2. Here is what I put in mine, generally:
- Fruit Snacks
- Fruit Bar
- Granola Bar
- Cracker and cheese packet
- Nabisco Cracker packet
- Cookie Packets
- Juice of some kind
- Bottle of Water
- Tissues or Wet Wipes or Both
- Gallon Sized Bags (To hold everything)
Next, I put them together. I personally start by taking each item out of their larger packages and separate them on my table into groups. (See photos above) Then it’s a matter of putting each item in to a gallon bag. I put three complete bags in my car and three complete bags in my husband’s. You can get a plastic bin from Dollartree or 99 Cent Store to hold them. I find if you put them behind the front passenger side’s seat on the floor, they avoid direct sun and they are easy to get to when you are exiting a freeway or at a stop light.
The ones I have handed out so far seem to get a very thankful and appreciative response. I think most are grateful for something to eat at all. Me, I’m just glad I can help in a small way. As winter comes, I might start throwing some gloves, socks, scarves, knit hats, or blankets in with the food. I know they can be found inexpensively and will be needed.
I am always looking for small ways I can help. Do you have a great idea for a small way to help? I would love to hear it. If you use the idea above, let me know how it works for you or if you can think of something else that might make it easier or better, I’d love to hear that too!