Friday, December 5, 2014

Homeless Care Packages

I have a habit of listening to NPR in the car. It's the only truly adult, non-kid-related conversation I get exposed to most days. 

A couple of weeks ago one of the programs was doing a story about the homeless. When they started talking about the homeless having a particular problem with dental abscesses, Harper piped up and said, "Someone should get them a toothbrush."

"Yes," I answered offhandedly. 

"We should get them a toothbrush. And some toothpaste," she added. "Can we mommy? We should give them to the people who don't have a place to live for Christmas. Can we get them some toothbrushes and toothpaste?" She was dead set on it, too.

I was reminded me of the Homeless Care Packages I'd seen links to in my Facebook feed. I had to admit, they were a really good idea and seemed simple enough, and I'd been looking for a holiday service project for Harper to get involved in. So I said yes.

There are a lot of great ideas out there in cyberspace, so I started Googling. Some packages included home-baked goods (not for me, I'm no Martha Stewart), handwritten notes for inspiration (too touchy-feely), or gift cards for coffee (one word: impractical). I wanted to concentrate on practical items that would help chronically homeless people stay healthy on the streets. 

One of the packages I'd seen boasted a price tag as low as $6 a bag. After crunching some numbers I saw no possible way to make that happen. The goal was to start with 10 bags but, on a $100 budget, I needed help. I wound up reaching out to some friends whom I thought would want to see this project come to fruition. My new friend and kindred spirit, Sabrina, (who lets me recruit her for everything) and our dearest Tampa friends, the MacWherters, stepped up to the plate. Yay for awesome friends with big hearts!

In the end the bags were really fun to put together. Harper helped count out all the items as we shopped and helped put the bags together. Next week we are meeting with the Homeless Liaison from the local police force who will help us distribute them. Harper is too excited for words! 

Double checking the bags to make sure we didn't skip something.

The items in each bag are identical (more or less). The NPR program talked a lot about dental disease and diabetes are disproportionate problems the homeless face. This influenced our bags quite a bit. 

After much debate we settled on these final items: roll of toilet paper, jar of peanut butter (easy source of protein that doesn't have to be refrigerated), shampoo, deodorant (I don't know if we'll do deodorant again next year), small first aid kit, sunscreen, sanitary napkins, bar of soap, comb, antibiotic ointment, chapstick with SPF, socks, rain poncho, water-resistant tote (we bought them all second hand for less than a buck each), and, of course, toothbrush with cover and toothpaste. (Not pictured but will be added before distribution: toe nail clippers and wet wipes.)

Ready to go! These were so much fun to put together we'll definitely be doing them again next year. Maybe we'll try to do twenty.

Things we wanted to buy but ended up being cost-prohibitive included lice shampoo, chemical ice packs and other food items. I did purchase hand sanitizer but ended up returning it later upon learning that some people with alcohol-abuse issues have been known to drink it on occasion.   

Have any of you done these before? I'd be really interested to hear what you included and why. And if anyone out there would like help us out next year, no matter how, please let us know! 

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