The title may be a bit misleading [apologies, I know you were all looking so forward to an expose on zippable freezer storage]. I’ve been trying to shove a lot of information into a single post on what I’m about to share, but turns out, it really needed to be a blog-series. And here we are.
In the earliest days of 2016, I stood atop the short cement staircase leading up to the Suntrust of Winston-Salem, NC in the drizzly rain. I had stashed my umbrella as I took turns sitting on my luggage or standing near it. Gingy, perched atop my backpack in his brand new raincoat, people-watched with me as we waited for Drew to come out from cashing our final Christmas gift.
A man came out of the bank. He ran to his SUV. Returning briefly, he handed me a Ziploc bag. “This is from our church. I had an extra. God bless!” he said, rushing away before I could respond. He also shoved some cash in my hand. The bag had Christmas gift-wrapped shapes in it which later turned out to be sample soaps, shampoos, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
I don’t discuss it much here [you might say we’ve been healing from the experience], but Drew and I have been homeless on two occasions. Each time lasted about a year, and though we’ve a home now, we’re not fully out of the woods financially. The homeless -particularly homeless veterans- we think of them often. Because we get it… At least in part.
In our shoes…
When you’re homeless, one of the most difficult things is knowing what you’re missing. Whether it’s a hot meal that’s not watered down, a night away from it all with your partner, or over the counter allergy meds and a soft bed, something’s missing. It was the little things we used to be able to do… the things we could still be doing if we’d just had a home, a job, money to budget, etc. etc. etc. Drew and I were fortunate. We had some of our comforts with us. Others, we were able to purchase over time. Some were jimmy-rigs or things I wouldn’t have thought to use in a certain way if I hadn’t been homeless — such as peppermint lip balm spread over nostrils to clear a stuffy nose so I could sleep. But more often than not, the little things I found that were the most helpful to me, weren’t in ziploc baggies gifted me by kind strangers.
Let me be clear, I’m not ungrateful for the bags we received, nor am I discouraging anyone from handing them out. In fact, quite the opposite. What bugs me about them is:
- Ziplocs severely limit the size of the donation.
- Though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saving a few bucks, many care package suggestion lists recommend purchasing items at dollar stores. The concern is that it gamifies the donation process by encouraging people to manage more output for less input. Anyone can feed 6 people for 1 meal by purchasing a box of Lance crackers for $1. That doesn’t make it a kindness.
What I fear people ignore when creating a care package:
- Taste the granola / protein / cereal bar you just purchased before donating it.
- Skin sensitivities / allergies are real. Yardley is a cheap, gentle soap.
- Food allergies / diabetes / hunger are also quite legit.
- Women on the streets often do not have access to feminine hygiene products. How about an extra-special care package chocked full of Kotex, chocolates, various Doritos, and a gift card to Pizza Hut with enough to pop a stuffed crust on that sucker? For those in the audience hesitating, the alternative is meeting this lovely lady…
- Collapsible dishes. Give a man a can of soup and he can carry it. Give a man a collapsible bowl and a soup and you’ve just donated a little of his independence back.
- A woman handed me an unopened can of soup once in the bus station. She looked hungry and I knew her to be homeless. I asked didn’t she want it. She shook her head, eyes shimmering a little. Said she didn’t have a can opener or a way to heat it… thought I might like it. I hope that breaks your heart.
We’ll continue this conversation and discuss even more in the coming posts.
About the series…
Take this series and Ziploc it. For the next few weeks, I’ll share a few posts about the challenges [some of] the homeless face and things that I – and hopefully others – found helpful and valuable. Some of my suggestions and ideas might not fit neatly in a ziploc or a backpack. But I hope you’ll find some way to put it out there and help others today.
Each post will contain information and possibly links [if available] to help y’all get started. A lot of it will be print info, opportunities, offers and services which folks may not be aware of, but that could still help in a bad situation. I would like to recommend groups looking to aid those in need try putting this info together into a pamphlet specific to your area / city.
To find these posts and keep them all together, I’m tagging them with #ziplocthis and #routezip.
Enjoy. And thank you for reading.