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Christine Schanes

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How To Serve A Homeless Person: Guide To Gift Bags

Posted: 03/09/09 07:00 PM ET

We can help a homeless person by serving him/her food, a blanket and/or necessary items. It's a pretty simple and wonderful thing to do.

In this article, I would like to propose a way to share items with homeless people. This distribution method of serving an unhoused person has worked for Children Helping Poor and Homeless People volunteers for over twenty-two years. I will discuss "the charitable giving of food" in detail in a later article.

Let's start from the beginning - we'd like to share something with a homeless person/people, but what should we share and how can we do share it?

First, we ask ourselves, what would we like to share with those in need. Not sure? On our website, www.chphp.com, there is a "Can You Help?" button which, once clicked on, will reveal a number of suggestions of how to help.

One of our favorite projects is to assemble one or more Gift Bags, also known as, Survival Kits or Toiletry Bags. The goal of this project is to fill a bag(s) with new hotel/motel size toiletries and then give them to homeless people.

Although any bag or container can be used, we suggest using gallon zip lock bags for a number of reasons: they are big enough to fit a lot of items; a homeless person can reuse the bag; and because the top of the bag can be securely closed, the car/transportation vehicle is safe from spillage.

Having selected Gift Bags as our project, we can then think about the toiletry items we want to include in each Gift Bag. This is a very important part of this project because we are raising our own awareness. We can let our minds wonder and imagine what personal items a homeless person could use. We might even ask ourselves what personal items we would want if we were homeless.

For more ideas of personal items to include in the Gift Bag, we can refer to a list of just some of these items on our website, www.chphp.com and click on the " "Can You Help?" button.

We can then make a list of these toiletry items and share this list with our extended family, classroom, school and others to raise awareness and to generate more personal items. We can also purchase toiletries at reasonable prices at discount stores such as The 99 Cent Store or Big Lots.

After our collection is complete, we can sort these wonderful toiletries into piles of similar items, such as a pile of combs, a pile of toothbrushes and a pile of toothpaste.

Then, we put one or several of each item into each bag. This assembly process is great fun and can be done by young people and adults alike.

After our Gift Bags are assembled, we can bring them to homeless people we've seen in any area, place or park. For example, in Los Angeles County, we frequently distribute to people in need on the Santa Monica Promenade or at Venice Beach.

We follow several guidelines when we share/distribute anything to anyone:

1. We always serve in a group with two or more adults. We are a team. We always stay together.

2. We always serve others in a well-lit area.

3. We always use our common sense. For example, we don't like to be awakened when we are sleeping, so we don't wake a homeless person up to serve him/her anything. We can put the item(s) nearby without disturbing the sleeping person.

4. The homeless children, women and men are our guests. How do we treat a guest? With kindness and respect.

5. We use special words when serving another person. We say, "Excuse me, Sir or Madam, do you know anyone who could use this ____________ ? Fill in the blank, which in this case, is a Gift Bag filled with toiletries.

We have found that the person we are asking will usually respond in one of three ways,

1. 1% of the time he/she will say, "No, I don't."
Our response: "Thank you, have a nice day!"

2. 1% of the time he/she will say, "Yes, there is a person who could use it right over there."
Our response: "Thank you, have a nice day!"

3. 98% of the time he/she will say, "Yes, I could!"
Our response: "Wow, that's great! Here you are. Have a nice day!"

That's it.

Creating Gift Bags is a lot of fun, but I can assure you that the distribution, this sharing, is the very best part.

I hope that you will consider direct service. It's good for all of us.