Care Packages for the Homeless

As the holidays roll around, many of us are inspired to give more than any other time of the year, especially when considering care packages for the homeless. A group of individuals that benefit from giving year round is the homeless population. Homelessness can happen at any time and maybe you have experienced it yourself. Homelessness affects men, women, and children. It affects the young, the old, the healthy, the unwell. Not every homeless individual has a drug and alcohol problem or a mental health issue. Never judge someone who doesn’t have a home, try to understand their stories.


According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night across the U.S. and approximately 15% of the homeless population are considered “chronically homeless” while about 9% of the homeless population are veterans.


Homelessness is a huge issue in the United States and many people want to help, but don’t know what to do. Creating and distributing care packages are a great way to offer a helping hand to an individual who doesn’t have a permanent residence. There are many checklists for care packages on the internet, but it’s always a good idea to make packages that are useful. While all care packages are well-intentioned, some items are better than others.

Suggestions for Care Packages


When you create a care package, think about the essentials and what will be long lasting and most portable.


  • Socks: Many homeless individuals, without a car, spend a great amount of time walking to and from appointments. A fresh pair of socks can do wonders on tired feet. Band-aids or blister pads are also helpful.


  • Food: While some individuals have the opportunity for at least one hot meal from a meal center, many need high protein, quick and easy snacks to eat throughout the day. Steer clear of sticky, hard, or overly sweet foods (like candy) that can put strain on teeth. For many, regular dental care is not an option. Applesauce, pudding, trail mix, beef jerky, and instant soup cups are a better idea.


  • Toiletries: While a bar of soap can go a long way, it can ruin a bag full of food. If an individual has a chance to shower, it’s highly likely that soap is already available. A better option would be baby or cleansing wipes. Other helpful toiletries include a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a comb, unscented lotion. Avoid mouthwash, hand sanitizer, or any products that contain alcohol.


Some Extras


You may tempted to give money, but it’s difficult to know how helpful it will really be. Instead, offer a gift card to a coffeeshop or a sandwich shop. Travel mugs, hand/foot warmers, and extra cold weather clothing could also be helpful.


When you distribute your care package, take the time to talk to the individual, learn his or her story. Many homeless individuals are not “beggars”. While your contribution will most likely be appreciated, keep in mind that it is also difficult to accept help. Have a nice simple conversation with your recipient, you may find that you have a lot in common.

Participate in the “Season of Giving”

When the winter holidays roll around, we are asked to “give” and to celebrate the season of giving. We already know it’s beneficial to be charitable, but for millions of Americans, being a philanthropist is not always possible due to their own financial limitations and hard times. Fortunately, there are ways to give and make a difference without spending money. The season of giving is not about the amount of money you contribute, but rather the efforts you make to show you care, that you think of others, and you are trying to make a difference in a sometimes unjust world.


Feeling Good in a Season of Obligations


Although the “Season of Giving” is meant to be a time of doing good and thinking of others, it has also become another reason to participate in mass consumerism. Unfortunately, a good deed or a  thoughtful gesture has been replaced by a gift card or a material item that may or may not be needed or appreciated. It’s easy to feel pressured and obligated to give during the holidays, even if we can’t afford to or feel like one more material item won’t make a difference in the world.


If your family has a tradition of gift giving, suggest putting a limit on of gifts or request that they give towards a charity of your choosing rather than giving you one more kitchen gadget or household item you appreciate, but don’t need in your life. If your family is against straying from tradition, you can still do your part on your own time. Volunteerism is a great way to feel good year round, but particularly in a season of “obligations”. No one expects you to help and they are often grateful of any time you can dedicate.

Teach Children to About Gratitude


As grown-ups, most of us realize that materialism can be unnecessary and it’s easier for many of us to ask for nothing. However, children are still at the stage in their lives where toys, books, and other “wants” are important to them. As a parent or relative of a child, it may be difficult to meet all of the requests on a child’s wish list. Some good advice is to choose a few items that will foster a child’s interest, creativity, and growth. Encourage your child to choose an item from a store or even from his or her own toy collection to donate to a child in need. Teaching your child about gratitude and not giving into every want will help him or her grow up to be a more compassionate person; teaching your child to be a better person costs nothing.

Start Giving Early

Remember, you don’t need money to make a difference, but if you feel like you can’t make a real difference without donating money to a cause, start planning early so you don’t feel overwhelmed once the holidays roll around.  For instance, start a small jar of spare change. Once it’s full, donate the amount to a charity of your choice. If you plan on helping out at the local food shelf or serving meals at a homeless shelter, sign up as soon as you can as spots may fill, but there’s a good chance that there will be something to do, wherever you decide to participate in the season of giving.


What on Earth is Food Justice? Chew on This!

As we walked into The Commons in Brooklyn on Monday, June 20th, we passed by walls of foodie goodies: delicate jars of golden honey, colorful packages of fresh herbs, and a bunch of arugula labeled, “This was grown on the roof of this building. That’s as local as you can get.” This spunky display of food, set out in old, beautifully worn boxes was–to put it lightly–attractive. But one of the questions of the night was present even as we set foot into the building: what is the connection between these foodie gems and food justice?

Professor Louie, a veteran spoken word poet, did more than connect the dots for us. His poem (check it out below!), a 10-minute overview of our broken down food system, was a comprehensive and compelling take on the complexities of the global food industry. Shifting his weight and clapping his hands between lines, he took us all the way from rural El Salvador to Detroit, from hunger to worker’s rights, from access to sovereignty, from corporate control to democracy. And it was all woven together with a refrain that kept bringing us back: “You are what you eat. You know that’s true. So what else is new? You are what you do.” It wasn’t a lecture; it was a challenge.

After listening to Louie’s words, we turned to a text study to explore what exactly is Jewish about food justice. We looked to Shavuot, wrestling with traditional Jewish agricultural practices, and commenting on the laws that command us to allocate some of our harvest for the poor. The Book of Ruth delves into the power dynamics that these practices create and perpetuate; the charity model renders Ruth a helpless dependent, a position influenced by both her class and gender. We broke into small groups to have discussions on the potential and limitations of this model, and examined the words of Paulo Friere in order to investigate the difference between false charity and models of solidarity and empowerment. Then Nancy Romer, the General Coordinator of the Brooklyn Food Coalition, clarified even more for us what it means to be a food democracy organizer.

Her presentation was marked by her passion and engaging personality, spanning the spectrum of issues all the way from obesity and starvation to the 2012 Farm Bill. Our food system, she argued, is so out of whack that it creates a “war on our people.” Gesticulating passionately, she led us through an astonishing graphic of the progression of obesity over the past decades, shared heart-wrenching details of the abuse of animals, and drove home the importance of incorporating workers’ rights into our analysis of the food system. But she didn’t forget to offer opportunities for change. Her talk ended on a hopeful note, suggesting small and large ways that each of us can get involved in the struggle for food justice: join a CSA, volunteer to “crop mob” at an urban farm, organize efforts for advocacy, work for labor rights in the food system. The event as a whole was certainly an engaging first look into the food justice world, and there was a lot to chew on.