How to Make Care Kits for Homeless People

30th December 2013

Hank and I made Homeless Survival Kits as part of a Life List goal to do a holiday project together. It surprised me by becoming an easy way for Hank to ask me questions, so I wrote about that over here: Talking to My Kid About Homelessness Without Giving Him Nightmares. This is something that has come up a lot in San Francisco, where we have a lot of folks on the streets.

We do give money to our local food bank, but I’d like to have something on me to offer when people ask for help, so Hank doesn’t get the message that you can be indifferent to people in trouble. I did a little research on what to put in our kits, and we ended up using:

Gallon-sized, rainproof ziplock bags
Disposable razors
Lip balm
Travel deodorant
Body wash
Folding travel toothbrushes
Travel toothpaste
Wet wipes
Kind bars (softer to chew than granola)

More items to consider:

Water bottles
Bus passes
Hand warmers
Shaving cream
Cheese or peanut butter crackers
Vienna sausages with pull off lids
Plastic forks and spoons
Additional ziplock bags to keep belongings dry

There’s a good thread on Meta-Filter that has a lot of suggestions in comments. You can drop your kits off at a local shelter, or give them out individually.

Also, some nice things to consider generally:

Softer food is easier for people to chew if their teeth are hurting. Homeless people don’t have access to dentists or often any way to keep their teeth in shape, so consider that when you’re choosing food.

Hydration can be a big problem when you don’t have a house. If you’re offering food, try to offer a drink as well.

Take your leftovers, and request plastic silverware. If you live in a big city, never turn down your leftovers when you can hand them to someone within a few feet of the door, or leave them on top of the nearest bench or post box for someone to find. I told a waiter I was leaving the rest of my dinner out, and he taped silverware and a napkin to the top. Genius! So now I request one if the place seems to offer takeout. Also, I like to write the date and time on the box if I have a pen.

If you have any simple habits you’ve adopted to help out the homeless people in your community, or any advice to offer if you’ve been homeless yourself, please let us know in comments. And Happy Holidays, team!

13 thoughts on “How to Make Care Kits for Homeless People

  1. sherri

    kindness matters! thank you for sharing this project. i’m going to find some young helpers and follow your lead.

  2. m

    Awesome, Maggie! I would suggest putting socks on the “definitely include” list considering the feedback I’ve gotten. :)

  3. kelly

    this is an incredible gift and a very useful suggestion. as a fellow san franciscan (one who lives nearby the eastern border of gg park), as well as a girl scout leader looking for community service project ideas that are appropriate for kids hank’s age, i thank you. this is a tremendous help; both the project and your explanations.

  4. Jen

    We did this with my yoga community on the solstice and handed them out. We made it a priority to make the bags pretty and added a note of love. It is nice to have them on hand to hand out at lights, but I have also found it’s really sweet to go out as a group and love bomb a neighborhood. The biggest gift I’ve seen is in acknowledging someone as a fellow human. It might sound silly, but so much of the loneliness of homelessness is the anonymity. You can make someone’s day with a smile and a hello.

  5. Lauren

    Clean socks! Especially in places where the weather is cold, clean and warm socks are known to be almost a luxury item. Fresh fruit, when possible, is a great thing to add in (bananas are especially good since they’re soft). When I lived in a city where I drove a car, I often kept cases of Clif Bars that I purchased at Trader Joe’s or Costco in it to pass out to folks waiting near freeway exits.

    Important, I believe – acknowledging homeless folks goes a long way. I’ve casually made acquaintance with a man who asks for food or money in the subway station on my block in Manhattan. Over the years, I’ve come to know his name, and even though I don’t often give him food (though I do occasionally), we do always warmly say hello to each other and exchange pleasantries. It’s not much, but I am confident that acknowledging him as a person has meaning. I tend to make eye contact with folks on the street when they’re asking me for money or food – I usually say no, but do wish them well. It’s typically well received, and often the best I can do.

  6. Jen

    Thanks for sharing this. I work at a shelter for people who don’t have homes and wonder what I will tell my son, who is now 3-yrs-old, when he asks about the people who get to sleep at my job. One thing I’ve already started to do is shift my language from “homeless people” to people who are homeless or who don’t have homes. I always want him to know they are people first.

    Also, I love the comment about clean warm socks! They are definitely in high demand here in cold, snowy, icy Michigan!

  7. Darci

    Thank you for this. I am looking for projects for my high school advisory class to take on…I like this idea.

    Great comments as well. When I worked in DTLA I always wanted something to give to the freeway exit dwellers. I would make PB & J sandwiches in the morning and pass out a few each day. I had to careful not to be too regular or people would watch for my car.

  8. jenny

    I used to have a stash of these in my car when I first moved to the city, because I wanted to do something. Then I lived in Boulder for a year and fell out of the habit. New goal for 2014! Thanks for sharing and inspiring!

  9. elsiroomom

    I love this idea – we are always looking for ways to help our children think about giving back – and my middle son is particularly sensitive to the plight of people without homes. It HAS generated a lot of discussion about how we can help people, both here and elsewhere – and about how fortunate we are. Also – warm socks! – brilliant – we live in MN and I can only imagine that here of all places they would be welcome!

  10. Megan

    Baby wipes! Travel sizes are easily found in drugstores and big-box stores, or large packages can be divided into ziplock bags. They are amazing at cleaning off the body and getting rid of odors when no shower is available, and are gentle on the hard-lived skin of people who are homeless.

  11. Melissa

    I used to run a community education program about homelessness for school aged kids in Sydney where I live.

    For the little kids, we used a jenga game to explain how someone might become homeless – the Jenga blocks had writing on the sides with things that you needed in your life to feel good – somewhere to live, family, friends, food, hobbies/interests, a job if you were a grown up or being at school if you were a kid, holidays sometimes, a sense of purpose etc. etc.

    We would ‘build’ the jenga tower by asking kids to list stuff they needed in their life, adding the appropriate blocks when they called out – then we told a (fairly sanitised) story of someone who became homeless, removing the blocks when stuff went missing from their life, until it crumbled. We rebuilt the tower by talking about different support services someone could access to fix their problems.

    The exercise works well because it helps kids to understand that one thing going wrong won’t cause their life to collapse, but that you need a solid foundation of things working together to feel happy and safe. One thing going missing will make you feel a bit wobbly, but you can make it through. It also helps them understand that when you’re struggling you might need to ask for help.

    In Australia about ten percent of all homeless people (broadly defined – includes people sleeping in cars and couch surfing etc.) are kids under 12, so I always felt it was really important that kids understood not to be afraid of people who were homeless, and that kids who were at risk could think about how they might ask for help, and who they should ask.

  12. Kyre

    I live in a ‘hot all year around kind of place’, so I keep bottled water in my car for anyone asking for handouts at an intersection/what-have-you.

    I’ve been turned down twice.

    Now, thanks Maggie!, I will be making kits to give them as well.

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