In striving to live a life of justice, I try to also pay attention to causes outside those with which I’m most interested and most familiar. One of those is the homeless population.
My church is in Downtown Atlanta, and it’s not uncommon to see someone standing on the corner selling newspapers or asking for money. Additionally, there is a lot of new construction and growth in the area where I live, and over the past eighteen months or so, I have also seen more of the same close to home. I wanted to help, but didn’t quite know how.
And then a little over a year ago I read Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker. I’d read 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by her a few years earlier, and absolutely loved it, so I thought I’d also give this earlier work a try. Again, it did not disappoint! She knows just how to rock my world, and is so funny, relatable and challenging. I highly recommend these books, as well as her latest, For the Love, which is not about social justice like the other two, but oh so funny about life and family and spirituality.
Anyway, in reading Interrupted, it came to me that one thing I could do easily is basically create “kits” that I could keep in my car, and give to those in need.
The Hatmaker’s church in Austin frequently works with the homeless, so she mentioned a number of things throughout the book that helped me figure out what to include. And then I added my own spin as well.
My kits currently contain:
- Bag – A reusable tote, backpack or duffle. If I don’t have anything on hand, I get them at IKEA because they are inexpensive and good quality. A plastic bag would do just fine, but I rarely have those, and I wanted them to have something they could keep and use. I choose not to shop at Walmart, so IKEA is a great alternative for things like this.
- Blanket – Again, I get these at IKEA for the same reason. And I figured when it gets really hot in Atlanta, the blankets could be simply used as pillows.
- Rain gear – Yep, IKEA. Though the plastic rain ponchos you can buy practically anywhere would do fine too. Something is better than nothing, and it rains here a lot.
- Nuts – A fairly inexpensive source of protein. I try to include several packs of these per bag.
- Water – One bottle per bag. With multiple bottles, the bag starts getting heavy.
- Socks – One pair per bag. This is an item I probably wouldn’t have included if it not for the book.
- Gift card – I chose McDonald’s. I am not a big fan of McD’s or believe they are full of high quality foods, but there is one every couple of miles, and I’d rather them have a hot meal than nothing. Mine have $10 each, and hopefully that covers at least two meals.
- Note – I put the gift card in a handwritten note to make it more personal.
These kits stay behind the passenger side of my car, so I can easily reach and grab one when needed. I usually have five or six at a time on hand, and in total, it costs me about $75-$150 each time I buy all the contents. It depends on what quantity I buy. This could easily be scaled up or scaled down.
I have started to see women now and again, when before it was always men. So, I hope to expand on the next round to have a version of the kit with feminine hygiene products, as those are something always in short supply with women in need.
Additionally, I try to have a couple of the McDonald’s gift cards in my wallet at all times as well. This way, when I’m not in my car, I still have something that I can offer. It’s been especially helpful when traveling.
In a recent conversation with a friend about this topic (she wondered what the heck was in the back seat of my car), she said she keeps power bars in her car’s console, and also tries to keep a crate of bottled water for the same purpose. So, that’s an even easier way to contribute, especially if you have limited funds but want to help.
Many people do not like to give money to homeless people, and I understand why, but these are easy solutions when you put some thought into them as was the case for me.
I hope they inspire you to do something as well. Being able to look these men and women in the eye, exchange a kind word, and provide them with something they need is worthwhile for both of you, and gives them more dignity than just ignoring them.
And if you’re already doing it, let me know! I’d love to hear about it!
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