Last week, as my family and I drove home from a wonderful Christmas trip with family, food, and an embarrassing number of gifts, I spied some tents in the woods that lined a New Jersey highway. It reminded me that not everyone was as fortunate, and that some spent a cold and lonely Christmas in tents or shelters.
Winter is an especially hard time for the homeless, with harsh weather conditions and overcrowded shelters. Many homeless choose to tough it out on streets because shelters are also a source of bedbugs, crime, and other problems. No matter what your budget is, here are 9 ways you can help the homeless this winter:
- Cleaning out your closet? Winter clothes are in high demand at this time of year, for both children and adults. Coats, hats, scarves, gloves, sweaters, thick socks, shoes, and thermal underwear. Also, consider donating old blankets.
- If you’re shopping at a discount store such as Walmart or Costco, consider adding a few packs of underwear, socks, or feminine products to your cart. These items are often overlooked but in high demand at shelters.
- Create care packages: Fill old backpacks or reusable shopping bags with bottled water, nonperishable food, instant hand warmers, emergency blankets and a pack of baby wipes. Contact your local outreach center for business cards, and include one in each care package. These care packages can be kept in your car and handed out to anyone in need. The business card helps them contact the shelter for greater assistance.
- Have leftover party food? Contact your local shelters to see if they can use it for their guests.
- Clear bathroom clutter: Many shelters collect hotel toiletries and old towels for their guests to use.
- Share your expertise:
- Business knowledge: If you have knowledge in a business-related field such as legal, accounting, or marketing, donate your time to help a nonprofit with business infrastructure.
- Mechanical knowledge: If you’re a mechanic, see if your shelter has guests who need minor car repairs. Many times a car is the only home they have left, and is keeping them employed.
- Educational knowledge: If you’ve got book smarts, volunteer to tutor children in shelters, or adults who are getting their GED.
- If you’re part of a hobby group - such as a book club – sign up to make (or buy) and serve a meal at a shelter or food kitchen.
- Shop for a cause: Through Amazon Smile you can designate a charity to receive a donation for every qualified purchase you make on Amazon. It doesn’t cost you a thing!
- Be kind. When you pass a homeless person sitting on the street, smile and say hello, and ask their name. It’s a simple gesture that shows someone they are still human, and not invisible.
Each one of us has the power to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than us. Part of Janery’s mission is giving back, specifically to organizations helping change the lives of homeless people and pets. I’ll be writing my donation check for 2016 this month, but I’ll also continue to personally implement as many of these ideas as I can.
Have more ideas for how to help the homeless? I’d love to hear from you on Facebook or Instagram.
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