This picture has been floating around Facebook for a while now. It resurfaces every fall with the shift of the cooler weather. Whoever made this bag had good intentions and a generous heart, and there are many versions of these bags being handed out all across the country. Over the past 9 years of running a homeless ministry, we’ve learned a few things about the needs of our street friends. We know what’s practical and what isn’t, so I’d like to help you improve on these goodie bags.
We call our version of these, SEVENS Packs. Ours include our contact information, a bottle of water, assorted snacks, a pair of new socks, and when we’ve received enough through donations, a gift card for a fast food meal and/or a $10 gift card to a grocery store.
Here are some tips for making your own goodie bags, no matter where you live:
WHAT TO INCLUDE
If you don’t know what would be helpful to the people in your area, ask someone who does. The organizations who walk beside the homeless and hurting can tell you what the needs are, and what they have in surplus. This will save you time and money.
NEVER, EVER mix toiletries in with food items. The smell/taste of things like soap, deodorant, and toothpaste permeate everything else in the bag, and the food will not be edible. We once received a large donation of bags similar to this one and had to throw all of the food items away. Such a waste.
Bars of soap are cheap, but they’re bulky and messy. Baby wipes are a better option for a quick clean up. Any place our street friends can access a shower will have soap, shampoo, etc. for them to use. Any toiletries should be put in a separate bag, and we suggest freezer bags instead of storage bags because of the thicker plastic. Suggested items:
- Baby wipes/wet wipes
- Lip balm
- toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss (which doubles as sewing thread for mending clothing and backpacks)
- Maxi pads (Mark the bag with a pink star or some way to tell at quick glance that it’s meant for a female.)
In general, our street friends do not have access to dental care other than teeth extraction, so we try to stick with easy to chew snacks instead of crunchy ones, though a variety is nice. They trade what they don’t like for items they do.
- Fruit /applesauce/pudding cups (with or without a plastic spoon)
- Chewy granola bars (Cereal bars tend to get crushed into mush)
- Fresh fruit
- Assorted crackers or cookies
- Fruit snacks
- Beef Jerky (this is a favorite even though it’s hard to chew, and protein is good.)
- Small bags of nuts or trail mix
- Hard candy like peppermints or butterscotch
- Bottled water
It doesn’t have to be a holiday to give gifts. Some of the things on this list aren’t really gifts as much as possible needed items when you call the streets your home.
- Travel coffee mugs from local gas stations that get them discounted coffee refills. Closed handles are best so they can hang from a backpack strap.
- New socks – When you travel everywhere by foot, clean, dry socks are a must!
- $5-$10 gift cards to nearby restaurants or grocery stores. This is a great option for those who aren’t comfortable giving out cash.
- Wal-Mart/Target gift cards are great for needed items that are cheaper than a grocery store or aren’t available in one – feminine products, ibuprofen and other over-the-counter meds, shoes and replacement shoelaces, and underwear, to name a few.
- Travel size first-aid kits
- Hand warmers
- Warm gloves (NOT the little knit ones that don’t keep anyone warm)
WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE
- Used/worn out items. If you’re giving stuff with the attitude that the receiver needs to be grateful for whatever they get, perhaps you need to rethink your motives for giving in the first place.
- Hotel shampoos & soaps (donate these to shelters that have shower access)
- Religious Literature*
*A Note for my Christian Friends:
Homelessness does not equal Godlessness. PLEASE do not include religious literature. Your intentions are good, and your motivation sharing the love of Jesus, but don’t assume anything. Unless you have the time to build a relationship with someone, you don’t know what their story is and what role religion has played in it, both good and bad. Trust that God was on the streets long before you came into the picture, and faith conversations happen within the context of relationship. Trust me, they do happen.
ONE LAST THING
Presentation is important! Look people in the eye. Smile. Ask them their name then use it while talking with them. Offer your gift in love and without agenda. You’re giving hope and help to someone who is walking through a dark time in their life. That matters, and it tells them that they matter too.