The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty currently estimates at least 2.5 to 3.5 million Americans sleep in shelters, transitional housing, and public places not meant for human habitation each year. At least an additional 7.4 million have lost their own homes and are doubled-up with others due to economic necessity. With so many relying on shelters for help, available resources are stretched extremely thin. Donations from the communities served are critical so shelters can provide for homeless people.
The best course of action would be to contact your local shelter and ask them what they need. Shelters in different cities will have different needs. For example, cold weather shelters may need warm clothing items such as hats, gloves, blankets and sleeping bags. Another thing to consider is community charity drives might result in donations of one or two specific items for a shelter. You want to make sure your donation is needed, so contact your local shelter first to see what they need.
This is extremely important around holiday time. Most family shelters receive too many toys, which homeless families cannot keep because there is not enough storage. Oftentimes, family shelters scramble to find an alternative distribution for an overabundance of donated toys. When they can’t, toys are then given to thrift stores or thrown out. If you contact shelters first, they’ll provide a list of items that their homeless guests actually need.
Now for the list of things to keep in mind when preparing to donate goods to your local homeless shelter.
While clothing is a common and important donation, there are many other items shelters need that are overlooked. Many of these items must be purchased new. For secondhand donations, remember to only give items that are in good condition – unless your donation center has a profitable recycling program or thrift store. Remember: this isn’t an excuse to get rid of junk lying around your house.
While secondhand products are great, certain things are either single use or non-transferrable. If you’re financially able to donate new items, it can make a big difference. Lastly, remember monetary donations not only help provide needed items, but also help provide counseling and employment services.
Travel shampoos, soaps and lotions are ideal as they can be distributed to individuals. Next time you return from a trip, consider donating these products. Any hygiene product can make a huge difference. Include items like brushes (hair and teeth), nail clippers, and toothpaste in your donation.
Feminine Hygiene Products
Speaking of hygiene products, homeless women have limited access to items such as pads and tampons. Consider creating individual packages of tampons and pads in ziplock bags before delivering to the shelter. This will help keep the items dry for women exposed to the elements, and the bags can then be reused for storing other items. This will go a long way toward helping women experiencing homelessness.
Whether it’s for a potential interview or to keep up morale, razors can go a long way toward helping someone feel like themselves again. Throw in shaving cream as well, if you have it.
Baby or makeup wipes are small enough to carry around for a quick clean up. This is especially helpful if a person doesn’t have access to a regular shower. Pocket-sized packs are great for people carrying them as they move around.
You know that feeling when you’ve been wearing socks all day and you can’t wait to take them off? Unfortunately many homeless people don’t have the option to switch out used pairs for new ones. Picking up a pack of fresh socks can really help. If you are inclined, you can give socks directly to those in need. Learn how a pair of socks can go a long way in brightening someone’s day in this video.
While bras can be reworn, no one should have to keep the same underwear on day after day. If you see a deal on underwear at the store, consider picking up a pack to donate. All sizes are needed for men, women and children. As for bras, if you have gently used ones you don’t need, consider bringing them to a shelter.
It’s heartbreaking but babies can be homeless as well. Anyone who’s had an infant knows how expensive diapers can be. Plus, social assistance programs do not provide diapers, so they are desperately needed at family or emergency shelters. Help families by donating diapers to the shelter.
Whether an act of violence or an accident, shelters need to provide first-aid products to their guests. Think about how many times you need something like a band-aid or an ice pack. With so many obstacles faced, the need for these items is likely greater for a homeless person. Donating these basic medical supplies can help them to heal properly.
If you have extra blankets, even smaller throws, wash them and bring them to the shelter. A fresh, clean blanket can keep someone warm while providing them a better night’s sleep.
Clothing of All Types
Any extra gloves, scarves, hats or coats in good condition can genuinely be life-savers in the winter. Temperatures drop significantly, especially at night. It’s critical that people experiencing homelessness have as many layers as possible to combat it.
In addition to warm layers, everyday clothing is needed for people of all ages. Men’s clothing donations are especially needed. Men tend to clean out their closets less often, which means less donations for homeless men. Men’s jeans between sizes 32 and 38 are seriously lacking at shelters. Men, sort through your clothing and donate whatever you aren’t wearing.
Organizations like the Salvation Army use clothing and goods donations to support programming. Your kindness can make a huge difference in the lives of so many.