I don’t know about you, but I always struggle internally when I see people in need – especially young children. In the last two years we have seen the numbers of homeless and struggling people increase significantly in our area. I want to help, but in ways that will do the most good. I especially want my children to understand that others in the world are not as fortunate and that it is important to reach out and help those in need. A couple of months ago, a girlfriend of mine found this video floating around on the Internet and it motivated her to put together a group of our friends to help local homeless families in need:
The event was so easy and inspired that I thought it was worthy of sharing our experience in the hopes of motivating others to jump on the bandwagon. Check out the video, then follow these simple steps and you will find it is a great way for you to lend a helping hand. More importantly, it’s a delightful hands-on giving experience that is perfect for kids of all ages.
Step One: Organize your group of volunteers and donations
Our group was organized on Facebook among friends. My girlfriend created a special page for the group and invited friends to join. We used Volunteer Spot (http://www.volunteerspot.com) to outline what was needed for donation. We created an RSVP calendar event on Facebook for the actual event day. We also allowed families the opportunity to donate money if they were unable to attend.
Step Two: Organizing and collecting what you need
We decided to go along with the suggestions of the video and put together backpacks, but honestly you could easily assemble your own mini packs of any size (small or large baggies work great) to keep in your car ready for donations. Just keep in mind that a gift of any size is kind and helpful.
Suggestions for Backpacks:
1) Backpacks – gently used backpacks are fine. Just make sure that the zippers are in working order and that there are no large holes for stuff to escape from. We timed our event at the perfect time by mistake – early summer. Why? Because generally a lot of families are ready to get rid of backpacks. We also had a few purchased from local thrift stores. We used Facebook as well to call for any unwanted gently used backpacks. People were excited to have a place to gift the bags. It is best to get a general idea of how many bags/backpacks you will have prior to assigning the filler items.
For the filler items, we put a list of suggested items on our Volunteer Spot page and each volunteer signed up for one or a few of the items and then they purchased the total quality needed for all of the backpacks. So for instance, we brought enough granola bars for all the backpacks.
2) Toiletries – it is best to assemble all of the toiletries into large or small baggies so that you can avoid accidental leaks. We gathered items such as: soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste, hand sanitizer, sunblock, and deodorant. Feel free to make up your own list, but these items are very needed for many living on the street.
3) Food items – these are crucial of course. Be sure to pick food items that provide nutrition and are shelf stable. It is important that the food won’t melt or fall apart in the backpack. We collected granola bars, jars of peanut butter, crackers, chips, fruit packs, applesauce and nuts. In addition, we added bottled water.
4) Clothing materials – because you don’t know who you will be receiving the backpack, it is best to keep clothing generic and on the larger side. We added t-shirts and socks to most of our packs.
5) Reading and writing materials – these are optional materials but really add a special touch to the packs. We included notebooks, pens and small paperback books. Check out your local library for great prices on used books.
Step Three: Putting the bags together
We were lucky to have eight families who were able to come to our backpack packing day and several others who donated additional materials. We opted to meet up in a local park that had large picnic tables and lots of space. We stacked all of the goodies into piles around the tables. Then the kids went “shopping” around the tables and filled up their backpacks. They really had a great time as you can imagine. The amazing part was that our tiny little group was able to put together almost 30 backpacks. Just think how many backpacks we could all make if each of you found tiny little groups and did the same thing?
Step Four: Giving the backpacks
Our group decided to have each family take home their own grouping of backpacks so that they could each experience the act of giving. Each family plans to do the giving part a little bit different. Just like in the video, you will be delighted at the act of giving this wonderful gift to a total stranger and making their day a little bit better. It is an act both you and your children will never forget!