Archive for the ‘Works for me’ 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:


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
  • 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.)


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


  • 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.


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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I haven’t couponed since April. The shakes went away after a few weeks. 😉 After not feeling well and spending three days in pajamas, I needed to get out of the house today. The kids and I went shopping to grab some loss leaders and begin to replenish our school supply stock. Loss leaders are the special deals usually listed on the front page of a store’s weekly sale ad, and they have quantity limits. They get you in the store so you’ll spend more money than you planned. I didn’t. Ha!

For all of you non-couponing types, these deals are good until this Saturday, and I didn’t use a single coupon. Here’s what we picked up:

Office Depot (2 different stores – both close to my house):

(6) Vinyl zipper pouches – Retail 1.99/ Paid .01 each

(6) Acrylic Rulers – Retail .99/ Paid .01 each

(6) 1 subject notebooks – Retail .99/ Paid .01 each

(3) 2 ct. Dry Erase Markers  – Retail 2.99/ Paid .50 each

(20) Foray Rollerball Pens (My favorite pens!) – Retail 1.99/ Paid .50 each

Total Retail $72.59/Paid: $11.68   84% Savings


(6) Crayola Markers – .99 each

(11) 5 ct. mechanical pencils – .29 each

(4) 10 ct. pens – .29 each

(4) 6 ct. highlighter – .49 each

Total Retail $66.65/Paid $12.25   82% Savings

Office Max:

(5) 4 pocket folders – Retail 1.00/ Paid .25 each

(3) 12 ct. pencils –Retail 1.00/ Paid .25 each

(2) 12 ct. Colored Pencils Retail 2.00/ Paid .25 each

(3) Sharpie Singles Pens – Retail 1.79/ Paid.25 each

(5) 100 sheet filler paper –Retail 1.00/ Paid 0 (free)

Total Retail $22.37/Paid $3.25   85% Savings

Total Retail $161.61     Total Paid $27.18      84% Savings

These totals were before sales tax. I could have done even better if I were couponing, but summer was way too busy! Because I was a smart shopper and couponer for the 6 months leading up to summer, we were able to live off our stockpile with a few runs to the store here and there. Sadly, my coupon binder is fairly empty, so Zoe and I are working on filling it again this week. My pile of inserts is about a foot tall.

If you have these stores near you and a little extra change this week, there are A LOT of families that are struggling to buy the supplies their kids need for school this year. Buy some stuff and GIVE IT AWAY! Be a good neighbor. I know you want to. 🙂

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  1. I am the mom. In our house it is my job to select the food my family eats, buy it, cook it, and make them eat it. Yes, I said make them; two of our family members are not veggie fans. Couponing helps me feed my family for significantly less money, and I’m not talking junk food either. BUT it’s not just for moms, it’s for everyone!
  2. Couponing allows me to maintain a small stockpile of food and supplies. I know what it’s like to be food insecure, so I’ve learned the lesson of planning ahead and storing up for the lean times that may come around again for my family or our friends. It happens.
  3. When I save more, I have more to give, and I LOVE to give. I find great deals and might buy 10 of an item instead of 1. Even if I keep 5 for my family to use and stockpile, I have 5 to give away to others who are in need. The same is true for the stuff I get for FREE. I never find myself with too much stuff and no one to share it with. That is just not my life.
  4. I love FREE STUFF! Who doesn’t? I get $50-$100 worth of stuff completely free each month by combining coupons with sales. What I don’t or won’t use gets gifted to friends or our church food bank which is always in need of supplies. I am not wasteful.
  5. Couponing is fun. It’s like a game I play with my friends. We should call it “How low can you go?” Like most games, it’s more fun with a group. It’s FUN to find great deals and watch my total drop as the checker scans my coupons. It’s FUN to share those deals or coupons with friends so they can take advantage of them too. It’s FUN being part of a couponing group that celebrates each other’s money-saving victories, and helps each other laugh off the flubs we all make from time to time. I’m not a crafty person of any sort, so getting together with these ladies is my modern version of a quilting bee. Did I mention that it’s fun?

Let’s recap, shall we? Couponing saves money on my grocery bill, helps me maintain a stockpile, give more to others, get free stuff, and it is fun. So what are you waiting for? An invitation?

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