My family and I have lived in many states and we have been lucky enough to have traveled all over the nation in our RV. In addition to all of the beauty we witnessed, we also observed the poverty that was present everywhere we went. In almost every town or city we visited we noticed people living on the streets - people in need - people just trying to make it to the next day. When we would see someone asking for help, I was unsure about what to do. I didn't want to give them money but felt I wanted to give them something. Have you been in a similar situation? Creating care kits to hand out is an easy way to provide someone on the streets with a bit of comfort and it is a wonderful way to teach compassion to our children.
What to Include
Every year around the beginning of the new year, I have the kids research and brainstorm supplies they will put in our care kits for the homeless. There are many care kits for sale that you can easily purchase, but I like the kids to be involved in the planning, budgeting, and buying of the supplies. We are homeschoolers after all - life is learning! After 10 years of researching and making kits, we have come up with a pretty good list. We can find most things at the Dollar Store and we buy drawstring bags from Amazon. You can also put everything in a gallon zip lock bag or use your older backpacks and purses. It only costs us about $8-10 per kit to provide someone with much needed supplies. Of course, you can add as little or as much as you can. Here is a list of items that you might consider adding to your care kit:
food - nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, etc.
socks - more than one pair would be best
gloves - you can also add hat and scarf
band-aids or a mini first aid kit
toothbrush with cover
anti-bacterial lotion (nothing containing alcohol)
small soaps & shampoo
wipes and tissue
face or hand towel
feminine hygiene items in a separate baggie to hand include as needed
resource guide - information to local shelters, soup kitchens, food banks, etc.
extras like a blanket, transportation cards, a gift card, etc. are a bonus
doggie treats and/or food as needed
a large zip lock bag, drawstring bag, used backpack or purse for carrying supplies
We also like to make cards out of the kids artwork and include resource information in them. The kids write encouraging and supportive messages in the cards like: "You are loved" -- "Keep on keeping on" -- "Sending you good thoughts" -- "Much love to you" These little words can have a big impact on someone's day.
How to Deliver
When thinking about how you want to deliver your care kits, safety should always be your primary concern. Be sure you talk to your children about their comfort level as well. Perhaps you hand them out from your car to folks on the corner asking for help. You can roll down your window and ask if a care kit would be helpful to them. You can park and approach the person with a smile. Ask their name and engage in brief conversation. If you are a woman, it is always a good idea to have a man with you while delivering on foot. I know, I know - but seriously - it is good practice. Sadly, many of our homeless are in their situation due to addiction or mental illness so please be sure you are being mindful. We have not personally experienced anything that didn't feel safe, but everyone lives in different environments. Do what feels best.
For us, making the care kits and handing them out is just one part of the process. We feel it is important to talk about issues of homelessness with our children. So, how might you begin to discuss poverty and why there are people in need? First, educate yourself. We are the role models and we need to understand the issues first. Find credible sources from your local shelters and read about the major causes of homelessness in your area. The National Coalition for the Homeless has collected a lot of helpful information about homelessness around the country. I like the summaries provided by the Portland Rescue Mission. Read their handouts, Causes of Homelessness and Myths of Homelessness.
After educating yourself, come up with appropriate discussion points based on your children's ages. Perhaps you notice people in need when you are out driving and comment about it with empathy and compassion. These observations can lead to a conversation about ways your family can help others in need. Approach this in ways that feel good to you and your family.
Over the years, this project has become very near and dear to our hearts. My husband and I have been amazed at how much this project has inspired different discussion over the years. Now that the kids are a bit older we have really deep conversation about the systemic issues that surround homelessness. We hope to encourage other families to learn about systemic homelessness, donate or volunteer in ways that feel good, and involve their children to create care kits for people in need. One small act of giving can make a huge difference to the person receiving. Thank you for considering this project for your family.