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Archive for the ‘Homelessness’ Category

homeless bags(Updated 10/21/2015)

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.

Toiletries

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
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen
  • 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.)

Snacks

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

Misc. Gifts

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

Winter Items

  • Hand warmers
  • Warm gloves (NOT the little knit ones that don’t keep anyone warm)
  • Beanies

 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.

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Yesterday I got a text from a friend who had heard about a stabbing in Boulder involving 3 homeless men. She wanted to know if we knew them. I read the article and looked at the thumbnail picture of the suspect and was thankful that no, I didn’t recognize the face or the name. But one of our other street friends posted something on Facebook today that made us investigate further and we were shocked to find out that the suspect was in fact our friend Eddie. I hadn’t recognized him because he wears his hair differently than the picture and because you couldn’t enlarge it to see it better.

Eddie, who plays the guitar left-handed on the mall. Eddie, who has 2 sweet little girls that live with their mom. Eddie, who Tanner met when he was here for Spring Break and reconnected with this summer while he was here interning with us. Eddie, who visited church with us and wept through the service. Eddie, who is grateful for everything he has. Eddie, who I happily introduced my parents to last Sunday. Eddie, my friend.

Benny is doing his best to get in to see Eddie, but we have heard, and the newspaper has now run this as well, that he claims it was self-defense. He is not a violent guy and the other street people know this too. Many have given that statement to the police. It is still under investigation, and I would appreciate it if you’d pray for my friend. Even if it wasn’t self-defense – and I believe in my gut that it was – I would stand by Eddie through this process.

Being homeless isn’t easy, and it’s not a choice for everyone. I’ll end this now before getting on that particular soapbox. I’ll update this when I know more. Thanks for praying.

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A man’s body was pulled from Boulder Creek yesterday. It’s the second time this month, and my very first thought was, “Oh God! Please don’t let it be anyone I know.” It’s not what I would have thought before we moved here. Back then I would have thought, “How sad!” and gone on with my day. Now news like that stops me cold. It got me thinking about how far I’ve come – how much I’ve changed. I am still me, but I’m a better version. Growth is good. My edges are smoother, the hardness softened, I have thicker skin, and more patience. God has made me pliable, more loving and forgiving, and definitely more dependent on Him. I’ve let go of so many preconceived notions about others, found a deep community of friends, walked through healing of some of my childhood horrors, and stepped into a new life of writing and speaking.

Yes, I’ve changed. The past 7 years have held such beautiful moments of triumph and crushing moments of sorrow. I’ve experienced new life and the sting of death. I know more is to come, but this post is about seeing how I’ve changed in practical and visible ways.

7 years ago, if the weatherman reported a forecast of a blizzard, I would smile and think, “Yes! Good napping weather, hot chocolate, pajama days.” Now I worry about my friends who live on the street and hope they find shelter with warmth and welcome.

7 years ago, I threw away food when it hit its expiration date. (Like it magically goes bad at midnight on that day??) Now, I am choosy about the food I get rid of and I not only share with friends in need, I feed my family on America’s leftovers. I use lots of coupons, shop at bakery outlets, and frequent a food bank.

7 years ago, I thought homeless people were middle-aged men with missing teeth, holding brown bags wrapped around a bottle. Now I know they are just like me. They have family and friends, problems and stress, and cover all ages from birth to 100 years old. They are someone’s daughter, son, father, or mother. Like me, they have a story to tell and need someone to listen and care.

7 years ago, I relied on a steady paycheck with insurance for my kids and money to pay for swimming lessons. Now I rely on God moving in people’s hearts and donations to our ministry so we can pay our bills, feed our family, and share what we have with our street friends. There is no money for lessons or insurance.

7 years ago, I was nervous pulling up to a stop light if there was a person there holding a sign asking for money, food, or work. Now stop lights are opportunities for me to chat, ask a name, and offer bottled water, new socks, and snacks to the person with the sign.

7 years ago, I hoped for miracles of healing. Now I manifest them.

7 years ago, I stepped out of the church (full-time ministry) and into the world. Now I step out of the world (full-time ministry) to speak at churches.

7 years ago, I was pretty self-centered and loved people like me. Now I’m less so and love people whom I have little in common with, and I’ve been surprised by who those people are. They’re not who you might think.

7 years ago, I thought my faith was real. Now I know it is.

I’ve come a long way and I’m looking more and more like the me I am made to be.

What about you? How have you changed in the last 7 years?

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