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Helping the Homeless for (almost) Free!

Guest post from Katie of Saving You Everything

I am a social worker by training, and every time I see a homeless person in my city, I try to decide on the best way to help them.

Should I give them money? Should I try to tell them where a shelter is? Is this a scam? Are they just faking?

Whatever the case, I feel compelled to — and NOT just because I’m a social worker. I want to help them because I’m human and so are they… and they are asking for help.

I decided to use my “coupon super powers” to make what my hubby and I call our Mobile Homeless Outreach Bags. Now, when we see someone asking for money or food, we simply reach into the backseat of our car and hand them a bag with toiletries and food!

Most of the people are stunned. One guy started to tear up and asked if we wanted our bag back!

Our Mobile Homeless Outreach Bags

Most of our bags usually cost less than $3 to make, and sometimes they are totally free. Here’s what we put inside (along with an estimated cost breakdown).

  • 1-bottle of water (I get a 6-pack of bottled water for $0.55/pack)
  • 1-toothbrush & tube of toothpaste (free at Walgreens after coupon and Register Reward)
  • 1-deodorant (free at CVS after coupon & ECB)
  • 2-Bic Disposable Razors (free at Walgreens after Balance Rewards points)
  • 1-can of Nivea shave cream (free at Dollar Tree w/a coupon)
  • 3 pack of Underwear $1.00 (this might seem weird, but I’ve heard from several shelters that underwear and socks are hardly ever donated. The size may or not be the right one, but I figure it’s better than nothing.)
  • 1-pair socks (our Goodwill has new socks for $0.55/pair)
  • Shampoo, conditioner, bar soap (from a friend who gives me her hotel toiletries from trips)
  • 1-body poof ( I buy these in a 3-pack from Dollar Tree) and then I use a sturdy zip-top bag to put these in
  • Misc. snacks that I get for free from the store — crackers, potted meats, hard candy, etc.
  • 1-backpack (my work always has promo backpacks that are free for the taking)

The total is right around $1.88 per bag

That’s just $1.88 to help someone out, even if it’s just for a few days-to let them know that they are loved by someone.

I think this could be a great summertime project for kids.

If you don’t feel comfortable handing these out yourself, call around to local shelters to see if you can donate the bags to their efforts. Also, each year, local Girl Scout troops collect hygiene items for their April Showers campaign. Consider saving items for their collection.

Katie lives in St Louis, MO, and blogs over at Saving You Everything. She started blogging in an effort to show others how easy it is to save time, money, and even sometimes the Earth. By using what she has on hand and ‘making do’ she’s able to save money and help others in the process. She has been radically inspired by Crystal at Money Saving Mom to save money, be kind to others (including herself!), and to be a good steward of all the resources she’s been given.

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  • This is so awesome! I think a lot of times people don’t know what to do to help someone, so they don’t do anything. Doing something is usually better than doing nothing and this is great! What a good use of coupons and freebies.

  • Nicole says:

    Just yesterday I was thinking about helping the homeless with this same concept. Now I know this is God driving home the point that this is what I need to do. Thanks Crystal for sharing this post and being an instrument for God!

    • Sara says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing, Nicole! There is one homeless man in our community that I always see and want to help. My son and I were going to put together a bag like this but then hesitated, unsure if it was the right thing to do. I was very glad to see this pop up in my feed as confirmation to proceed. 🙂

  • Cindy Brick says:

    My church, Creekside Bible, serves supper at a homeless shelter once a month. The clients there especially appreciate sunscreen and lotion — the streets can be tough on exposed skin.

    The Mennonite Central Committee has great ways to contribute several kinds of kits, including sewing and education. (The latter are easily made up of items on sale right now for school.) Here’s the link:

    I especially appreciate MCC, since very, very little of your contributions get eaten up by office or promotion expenses. It’s one of the best charities to donate to, because of that. (Salvation Army would be another.)

  • Brighid says:

    Such a great idea! Even if we don’t have free backpacks at work, some of us might have backpacks or messenger bags that our children have outgrown.

    We’re in a pretty rural area so our homeless are harder to see. They still exist and you might find that a town police officer or welfare office might be able to collect these donations bags. Our school district is responsible for cooking the food given to children through summer lunch programs over a fairly wide region. A program like that might be able to put you in touch with staffers who could direct giving for homeless children and teens.

    Another way of reaching needy people might be to donated to your VA hospital. Our local 4-H county office has organized a donation drive during County Activities Day for toiletries and large print puzzle books, magazines, etc. to be donated to our VA hospital.

  • teri goodman says:

    I am slowly starting this up with my grandchildren. I think its important for the kids to realize that there are people who are without the simple things that we take for granted. By using coupons and the freebies that we get in the mail; the kits are either free or extremely low cost to put together and the reward is so much more then could ever be measured!

  • Lea says:

    Please check with your local officials about the laws about giving these out on your own. My husband was hit with a $150 ticket after giving a bunch of bananas to a panhandler. Turns out, our local laws forbid giving anything to those in need unless going through an official agency – we’ve had a huge problem in our city with people who are abusing the systems and making literally a more than full time income panhandling so they are cracking down on every aspect of it.

    Now we give through a couple of local shelters instead.

    • Kimberly in NC says:

      Wow! Could there not have been a warning first? That fine seems harsh especially for someone giving out of the goodness of their heart! Thanks for sharing!
      -Kimberly in NC

  • Barbara says:

    Wonderful idea. Shelters always need boxer undies in the larger sizes, white Sox and Vaseline for the men to shave with. Also, many homeless are dentally challenged so fiber one type bars and soft cookies are preferable to granola bars.

  • Donna says:

    Great way to show others how to do this inexpensively! We are headed out as a group today with purses for homeless women filled with lots of essentials. We have many homeless under the Atlantic City boardwalk and we will be spreading the love today! Hope many are inspired by this post!

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