My daughter is incredibly extroverted. I don’t know where she gets it from. My idea of a good time is a rainy morning with a good book and an endless pot of coffee. Or an empty restaurant with a good football game on. Or a walk on a chilly afternoon with absolutely no one else around.
Ruthie’s idea of a good time is a million friends. It’s lights and dancing and games and LOUD NOISES. If you gave her free reign, she’d have three birthday parties a day and invite the entire neighborhood every time.
So when she asked us earlier if we could keep some bottled water in the car to hand out to homeless men and women whenever we do errands, I was left speechless.
That’s a great idea, honey! What if we got some snacks too? Granola bars? Trail mix? It’d be nice if they were individually packaged. And we can’t give them junk food. We want some healthy food for them, right?
Ruthie was beaming because she had a good idea and because her parents were cheering her on.
And it got me thinking. What else could we do? Are there other relatively inexpensive ways we could tangibly and practically help the poor?
1. Keep cases of bottled water in your car
This was Ruthie’s idea, but she’ll let you have it. A 24-pack of water is only a few bucks at your local grocery store. Keep it in your trunk and next time you’re out and see someone in need — introduce yourself, ask if they’d like some water, and give it to them if they say yes.
2. Buy some individually packaged (and healthy) snacks
Same principle as before, except buying healthy snacks takes a bit more discernment. Water is water, but not all snacks were created equal. Make sure whatever snacks you buy don’t spoil easily (or at all) and are made from ingredients that will actually satisfy someone. Granola bars, trail mix, and cashews would all work great.
3. Turn spring cleaning into spring giving
Next time you’re cleaning out your closet, bag up those shirts and keep them in the trunk of your car like you would for bottled water or snacks and follow the same procedures — introduce yourself, ask if they’d like some clothes, ask their size, and give them the clothes if they say yes. If you have gloves, caps, sweaters, or scarves, these are especially needed during colder months.
4. Buy some gift cards
Every so often, I’ll buy some $5 gift cards from a gas station or grocery store near my house. And whenever I’m there, I’ll strike up a conversation with some of the same homeless men and women who take up shelter near there. I’ve started carrying small denomination gift cards that I can give to them so they can buy some coffee or a sandwich or a snack.
5. Remember the toiletries
There are inexpensive toiletries that are absolute essentials to homeless men and women. Next time you see travel size shampoos or toilet paper rolls or shaving lotions at the pharmacy or grocery store, buy a few and keep them in your glove compartment.
6. Pass on whatever skills you have
Nearly every city and town in America has a homeless shelter. Reach out to them and ask if you can teach classes on household repair, typing, cooking — whatever it is that you do well and can pass on to others. Those skills can help a homeless person find work.
7. Write a resume
The first time I went to a homeless shelter, I was surprised at how many men and women had really useful job skills or years of experience working, but lacked a basic resume. Take your laptop, download a simple resume template, write up a resume for them, and print out copies for them to take with them.
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