If you don’t want to give cash, here are a few other options
It’s a common question.
If you’re uncomfortable giving money, or you just never carry cash, it’s reasonable to wonder what else might be helpful. (But, it’s okay to give homeless people money.)
A lot of people ask what to pack in “give away kits” that they keep in their car to distribute to homeless people they come across.
But most of the time, they’re asking the wrong people.
If you really want to know what a homeless person needs most, you’ll have to ask them yourself.
That said, I can give you a list of commonly asked for items if you want to have some on hand. It never hurts to be prepared, as long as you don’t assume that stuffing all these items in a backpack makes for the perfect one-size-fits-all solution.
Like so much in life, what’s needed most will vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. After all, there’s only so much toothpaste one person can use!
Here are a few things you may want to keep on hand in your bag or car, in case you speak to someone who needs them:
Grocery Store and Coffee Shop Gift Cards
Coffee shop gift cards are great not because homeless people necessarily want coffee, but it does give them a chance to get indoors out of the elements, use the facilities and support the establishment.
Grocery store gift cards are a great way to give someone access to all the essentials that they might need, whenever they most need them. You can pick up one or two whenever you make a grocery trip yourself, and you’ll always have some on hand to give away.
If there’s only one item you keep on hand to give away, I recommend grocery store gift cards. They offer a lot of the freedom and flexibility of cash, without you needing to carry cash or give money if you prefer not to.
Giving away gift cards to nearby grocery stores lets your giftee decide what to get and when. Most stock a variety of prepared foods, hygiene products, other essentials, and sometimes even clothing.
The variety of choice gift cards offer lets the recipient spend the credit in the way he or she deems fit, just like you and I do each time we visit the grocery store.
Fresh, clean socks are usually a well-received item for homeless people in a variety of different circumstances. Who doesn’t like slipping on a new pair of socks?
They’re also equally needed throughout all seasons of the year. It’s great to have an extra pair to double up in the winter, but you still need some in the summer if you don’t want blisters.
Socks are a great thing to have on hand in case someone asks for them. A big pack of basic whites can go a long way.
Homeless people are also always in need of underwear. Unfortunately, if you don’t know their sizes, you won’t be much help. If you want to give away underwear, be sure to have various sizes with you.
When the weather gets chilly, hand warmers are a great thing to have on hand. Most of the people you talk to will be happy to receive these, since they can make a huge difference in overall comfort for people who are outside in cold weather.
You can (almost) never have too many hand warmers during the winter, so don’t be surprised if it starts to become a #1 most requested item!
Unscented Baby Wipes
Unscented baby wipes offer a way to keep your hands and body clean without consistent access to water or showering facilities. They can be used to clean up before a meal, or as a sort of “shower in a bag” when other options aren’t readily available.
People sleeping on the streets will often ask for these, though people living in tent cities, cars, or other places may have their own arrangements. Be sure to get the unscented type, as some of the scented kinds can be overpowering or irritate sensitive skin.
Travel size items are also great items to give homeless people, specifically dry shampoo and travel first aid kits.
Did you know that feminine products are not eligible purchases when using food stamps? If you can swing it, buying an extra box to give away any time you buy one for your household can go a really long way.
This is one item that varies a lot from person to person, according to personal preference as well as availability. In some areas, feminine hygiene products are overstocked in shelters, but in others, they’re almost nonexistent. Even where they’re well stocked, they may be primarily pads, which don’t suit all women.
So, tampons are a good thing to have on hand in case they’re requested. Depending on the person and your area, they may or may not be needed frequently.
For people living in tent cities or other larger groups, garbage bags are an often-requested item. They can be used to keep the site clean and to protect items from the elements.
Other homeless people may find them useful as a watertight barrier or for their own personal uses. Other useful items to give away when it comes to protection from the elements are rain ponchos and tarps. Of course, some people may not have a use for them at all. You’ll just have to ask.
Toilet paper is often needed in areas where homeless people live together with access to communal facilities. Of course, people who live on the street and use public facilities may not have much use for this.
Individuals are unlikely to ask for it. So, keep a pack on hand in case you find a community in need of supplies.
Keep a case of water bottles handy. You can give individual bottles to people, or donate the full case to a shelter or tent community for distribution.
Dehydration is a major issue for homeless people. There may not always be a convenient place to fill up a reusable bottle, so bottled water is often appreciated.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Just to re-emphasize, this is only a list of possible suggestions. To make sure you’re giving people what they actually need, you’re going to need to ask them directly.
Be prepared to get different answers depending on who you talk to, where they’re living, and what time of year it is. All these factors and more can have an effect on which items are most needed.