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Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There.

Want to help the homeless in your area? You can create a care package, survival kit, or blessing bag. No doubt you’ve seen these posted online somewhere, but often those items are not as helpful as you might hope. I can tell you what to include to help the widest range of the homeless, and why.How do you know, you may wonder. I’ve been homeless. I am an educated, perfectly nice, regular mom, who has been homeless. Multiple times. I’ve lived in my car, I’ve lived in a tarp tent, I’ve stayed in transitional housing. Many people are living only one paycheck away from homelessness, and this includes families in every area of every state.

Jump to the list.

Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.

A person is a person, no matter where they live.

(Tweet: A person is a person, no matter where they live. #actofkindness @MoreWithLessMom)

  • The homeless are here, right now, and they look just like everyone else.
  • That man sitting in his car in the big box store parking lot, he’s not waiting for his wife to come out of the store.
  • That single mom in the grocery store, juggling children and frowning while she tries to choose something, she’s spending her last five dollars on food.
  • The kid at the laundromat, who has a job but still can’t afford rent.

At the extreme edge of homelessness are the people who are living on the street. However they got there, a little help can go a long way.

Situation is not character

(Tweet: Situation is not character. #gratitude @MoreWithLessMom)

You should not see someone less fortunate, feel guilty, and make a care package to throw at them. Shelters and other aid agencies have volunteers who have been trained on how to deal with various types of people needing help. They have methods in place to determine that people who need their services get them, or they give them freely and have practices in place to make that process safe for all. Why not invest in the programs and services they already have in place with a donation? If you want to look into a charity you can use a resource like GuideStar or Charity Navigator to learn more about them.

If you want to make something to give to people who are asking for money on the side of the road, you can do something like this, but they may be begging and not have a real need. Is that ok with you?

There are two levels of our social strata we are dealing with here. One is the professional beggar/panhandler you see on the side of the street. The other is someone who is living without a stable home or basic necessities. The plumage of these species is often indistinguishable. Should you give them money? How can you tell if they really need it? Are they trying to take advantage of you? Are you in any position to judge, either way?

There’s no way for you to know how that person got there. Use your best judgement. Actually have a conversation with that person, as if they were standing in line at the store with you. (Always be safe.)

If you’re tied up in knots about your help going to the “wrong” people, donate to your local shelter. They know who needs help and how to help them.

What’s the best way to get to know your friendly neighborhood legit homeless person? Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. This is the place where they serve a hot meal to whoever walks in. Some of these people are just looking for company, some are poor but have a home, and some are homeless. You will find that it is often hard to tell the difference. There is no uniform for the homeless. Their plumage is the same as yours. (Tweet: There is no uniform for the homeless. Their plumage is the same as yours. #homelessnessstinks @MoreWithLessMom) Should you ask them right out? Well, would that make you uncomfortable if the roles were reversed? Most likely, that would be embarrassing, and you should save the deep probes for when you know them better. As you get to know people, you can ask them what they need, and you might be surprised at the answers they give you.

Give Them a Ride (Kinda)

211If you can’t stand giving money to a panhandler, and can’t stand not giving help to someone in need, I have a plan for you.

Get some maps of your local bus routes (the nearest city with a homeless shelter, for you country folk). Mark any homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and free church suppers. Make a document with the name, address, and service hours for these places, plus any handy resources for the homeless. Add a bus fare. Place in zip bag.

The panhandler will take the money from your kit and toss the rest, the homeless person may save this for a really cold night, but none of that is your choice. You choose to do a good thing and the rest is up to them.

If there are no services in your podunk town you can make a list of charities that can help, and 211 is a national database you can call to find help.

So… I know the drawbacks of delivering this kind of care package personally (safety being an important one)
I don’t need recognition for this act
and I know some or all of this may be thrown away.

Why do it, then?

For one thing, I know that some part of this may be useful to someone in need, and if I give it to the shelter that’s who will get it. Making the packages can be a mindfulness exercise. And making them with kids can be about gratitude, talking about appreciating what we have and being kind to others. Just because this isn’t a grand gesture, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. (Tweet: Just because this isn’t a grand gesture, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. #homeless @MoreWithLessMom)

Care Packages for the Homeless (the list)

*Update: Now you can download a PDF with the most important bits of this post, for your mission project, act of kindness, or community service idea.

Care Package for the Homeless PDF

Care Packages for the Homeless (the list)


  • Gloves (ones you can layer are good, so if something gets wet you can switch, waterproof are good)
  • Socks (this is possibly the most important thing, thermal or wool)

NOT cheap socks. Socks are not available at the thrift store like most other clothes, but keeping your feet clean and healthy is important when they are your primary transportation. At one point I had regular socks, wool socks, plus a styrofoam cutout under the liner of my boots. If you know the wonder of wool socks you know that’s what you should get.

Toiletries & Health

NOT soap, if you are in a place with a shower they will have soap, public restrooms have soap
NOT shampoo, soap cleans your hair too. Travel size conditioner is nice.
NOT hand sanitizer, mouthwash, or anything else with alcohol in it. Addicts are drinking this stuff to get a buzz
NOT large bottles of anything, big bottles won’t fit in the backpack holding everything you own, include multiple small bottles they can trade or give away if you feel the small bottle isn’t enough
NOT really smelly toiletries, even if you think it smells good or they must stink and want to mask their odor. Hello, insulting


  • Beef jerky (even if your teeth are junk you can suck on this until it’s mush and still get the protein)
  • Breakfast bars or cereal bars (they do crumble but you can still eat them)
  • Chocolate (sure it may melt, melted chocolate tastes good)
  • Mints (gum is hard for the dentally challenged)
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Raisins/dried fruit
  • Snack cups/applesauce/pudding cups
  • Tuna/chicken salad cracker kits
  • Water (dehydration is one of the biggest challenges, especially if you can’t get around easily)

*personal taste, dietary restrictions, and the status of your teeth limit how useful food will be
NOT granola bars/trail mix or other crunchy or sticky foods. If you want to include granola bars they will keep a long time, but they may have to be traded for something more appropriate. Many of our homeless are vets and do not have access to proper dental care. The way we treat our vets is a post for another day.

*UPDATE: I went to a vigil for the homeless and I saw an item that looked very useful once it was dark and my hands were numb. One woman was wearing a headlamp around her neck. These are like a flashlight, but they have a strap to wear on your head, mostly intended for camping. If I had been holding a flashlight I would have dropped it and broken it within 5 minutes, a waterproof headlamp and batteries would be very useful. They range anywhere from $10-40, and you can get them at the big box stores.


Yes, money. You should make the best choice for you on whether you include money.
Not a ton of money, but if you had none dollars you can make $20 go really far.

How do you know what that person needs? The best person to know that is them. They know what they need, and if you give them money they can get it. Is that person possibly an addict/alcoholic/chronic money waster? Yes. Is that person a person who can make their own decisions? Yes.

*Money and safety: There is always an issue of safety when dealing with people who might be addicts or mentally ill and possibly violent. If you are donating your packages to the shelter money can be included (you should ask the shelter). If you are handing these out personally you might want to leave the money out.

Things that can be bought with that shiny money/needs you can’t predict (you can feel free to buy these things and include in care packages):

  • Coat
  • Scarf and hat
  • Sewing kit
  • Shoes
  • Sleeping bag or mat
  • Underwear
  • Adult diapers
  • Baby diapers
  • Comb/brush
  • Feminine products or menstrual cup
  • First aid kit
  • Infant formula
  • Medicine/pain killers
  • Nail clippers
  • Razor
  • Pet food
  • A day pass to a gym, campground, or truck stop for a shower
  • A night in a hotel to sleep warmly and soundly, without worrying about someone stealing your stuff
  • Can opener
  • Flashlight
  • Headlamp
  • Gas
  • Hand warmers
  • Pay-as-you-go cell phone and minutes
  • Pillar candles, matches
  • PO box to receive mail
  • Quarters for the laundromat
  • Stamps
  • Tarp 6×8 gives good cover without being bulky

NOT gift cards. If you just handed me a gift card, how am I going to get to that place the gift card is for? Do I spend to just under and write off that little bit extra, or do I wait until I have a little money to spend over?

The two most sought after items are socks for anyone, and pads for women. (Tweet: The two most sought after items are socks for anyone, and pads for women. #homelessness @MoreWithLessMom) Yes, feminine hygiene pads. If you had no bathroom, no stuff, no money… what would you do for that one week every month? Besides cry.

Water is also important.

Pack in a big, clear zip bag, with an inventory at the front so they can see what’s in there.
Pack this just like you would pack for yourself or your children. Put goos in zip bags. Keep food separate. Don’t give used/opened items. Don’t give really nice things that will get the person beat up and the item stolen.

If you were to receive this, you might not need it right away. You might want to save it for a harder time that month. You have no place, and your backpack is full. What do you do with it? You stash it somewhere and hope somebody doesn’t take it. What happens to it if it isn’t in a zip bag? It gets wet and gross. Bag it! For a container you can use a gallon ziploc, gently used purse, shoebox, or sock, but I say haul your privileged tushie to the store and buy zip bags big enough to fit your items in. Better yet, put it all in a backpack.

Please note, if you are handing out packets most likely what is not needed immediately will be thrown away. If you want to hand these out yourself and are making handy packages this is just the way it is.

A card made by a child is welcome. A poem or something to read is nice. A religious tract comes off as being superior or preachy (try using your actions, not paper to send your message), although a heartfelt personal message with a bible verse can show you care.

Bonus item: Sympathy and encouragement. Nothing will touch you when you are in a hard place more than honest sympathy. Not condescension or pity, but a recognition that we all could end up in that same place. Take a moment to consider being in that situation. How many paychecks away from homelessness are you?

What’s the problem with a list like this? It tries to generalize a population that is very diverse. This list contains the things that will help the most people. But every area is different, every situation is different. As a homeless mom I would have loved hand sanitizer and trail mix.

Too rural to see homeless people around? There are homeless people everywhere, but sometimes you just don’t see them. Sometimes people in trouble have to go to a more urban area to access services to help them. Call a local church or town welfare office and ask where your care package should go, or use that handy 211.

Now that you have made a care package for the homeless and delivered it, you are awesome. If everyone helps a little we can make a big change. Enjoy that little happy bubble giving provides.

But are you done? Or do you want to do more. Volunteer. Educate yourself and write to the local paper, to your representative. Be an advocate.

Why do we have banks sitting on empty houses, rotting away, while the family who lived there is living in their car? Why do we have vets who risked everything for all of us, come home to be shoved to the edges of society? Why do we shun the people who have fallen victim to addiction and mental illness?

How is any of this ok?


Homeless Survival: Practical Tips And Advice Derived From Personal Experience from The Survivalist Blog
Homeless veteran survival packs and gear lists from Wandering Vets
Items to give to area homeless people from MetaFilter
Make Sure To READ THIS Before Making Care Packages For The Homeless! from
Printables for Blessing Bags from Thirty Handmade Days
Thanks and Giving – Paying Blessings Forward from How Does She

Have excess money and don’t know where to put it? Donate to Hundred Nights, the shelter in Keene NH.
Hundred Nights

Homelessness stinks.


Advocating for the working poor and affordable housing in New Hampshire. Championing homeless families in NH.

Follow Melissa French: More With Less Mom & HousePunkery’s board Kindness bombing on Pinterest.
Follow Melissa French: More With Less Mom & HousePunkery’s board Do Good on Pinterest.

More With Less Mom

Also see
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget from The More With Less Mom
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget

I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)
I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)

Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen Challenge
Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen – The Challenge

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar

Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Thanksgiving Blessing Bags
Thanksgiving Blessing Bags

Photo credits: Hobo cats from Adam Koford on Flickr, see more of these kitties at the webcomic Hobotopia

We hope you enjoyed our What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages post

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