Winter Care Packages
A few years ago, a friend and I started a winter care packages for the homeless project. Over time I have learned a lot about the process: what to include, how to hand out, how to fundraise, etc. I wanted to summarize this information for myself and for others who would like to do something similar in their city!
First: Know your population. It’s good to know the demographics, as it informs how many packages you will make and what to put in them. For example, is it mainly adults or are there kids? I like to also include menstrual products, so it’s good to know how much of the population would need them. It takes some digging but will be very helpful.
Second: Decide on a location to hand out the packages and a time to do so. I called a local church that was active in assisting the homeless population and asked them what a good time/day of week would be and the best place to hand them out. Also, make sure you pick a time before it gets too cold.
Third: Decide on how you will raise the funds for the packages. I have gone about it in two ways in the past. The first of which is making an Amazon Wishlist. I find that people often like to know exactly what they are buying and this boosts the number of items donated. However, I do have ethical concerns about Amazon and understand those who do as well. It is a balance and a choice you must make. Often the items are also cheaper on Amazon, but not always. I have bought some of the items from DollarTree. I have also asked for monetary donations via Venmo, PayPal, and cash. I would then use this money to buy items we needed.
Some notes about the Amazon Wishlist:
1. You can write how many items you need. Every time an item is bought, Amazon will deduct it from the total items needed. Once all the items are bought, they will disappear from the standard view. This year, I added text in the description explaining how that works and what the full list contains. This just helps make it clear and transparent for everyone.
2. Ask people to select the option to have the items sent to your address.
This project evolves each year and I come up with new ways to make it better every year. Using a fundraising platform might be a good option. Especially if you highlight the items to be included and how much they will cost. Some platforms will have the donation amounts on the side and you can write what that donation provides. For example, a $10 donation will provide 10 scarves.
Lastly, utilize resources around you! This year, I asked my dentist for donations, and he gave me 25 sets which, included toothpaste, a toothbrush, and floss. A graduate program also donated scarves.
Fourth: Decide what will go in the packages! This is the most important part. When creating these packages, you want to keep in mind who will be receiving them. These packages are for them, not for us. There are a lot of things to keep in mind that might not necessarily be obvious. In parentheses I indicate how many of each item I included.
- Gloves (1 pair)
- Should be stretchy and warm.
- Amazon sells multipacks.
- Dollar stores also has decent gloves.
- Socks (1 pair)
- They are thermal and thick.
- They are also anti-fungal to control infections.
- Hats (1)
- I like them because they are one size fits all and are made of good material.
- Scarves (1)
- I have used several different scarves over the year. Finding a good warm scarf can be expensive.
- The past two years I have used these. However, I can't personally attest for their warmth.
- This year the Quinnipiac Women's Gender Studies program donated 36 scarves!
Toiletries and warming supplies:
- Lotion (1)
- Wet wipes (1 packet)
- It is best to not include hand sanitizer, as it might contain alcohol.
- Chapstick (2 tubes)
- Toothpaste (1)
- Toothbrush (1 brush)
- Tissues (4 packets)
- Bandaids (8)
- To help cover sores or cuts. Bigger bandaids are better.
- Deodorant (1)
- Comb (1)
- Buy a variety of combs as people have different types of hair.
- Menstrual products (8-10)
- I don't recommend including menstrual cups. It is difficult for people to have regular access to clean water which they can boil.
- Thermal blanket (1)
- Toe warmers (3)
- Hand warmers (3)
Food is a tricky one. Often those who are homeless don't have access to regular dental care so soft foods are better.
- Apple sauce (2)
- Beef Jerky (1)
- Although not soft, it does provide a lot of nutrients!
- Mints (1)
- Emergen C (3)
- Cheese crackers (1)
- Tuna salad (1)
- Soft granola bars (2)
Items for kids:
- Notebook (1)
- Pens (1)
- Pencils (3)
- Sharpies (2)
- Colored pencils (1 pack)
- Pencil pouch (1)
- Coloring book (1)
- Little toy (2)
Finally, you need something to place the items in. I like to use plastic bags to organize things for two main reasons: 1. It helps separate items. 2. The bags can and will be reused.
- Gallon ziplock bag for:
- Sandwich ziplock bag for:
- Toe and hand warmers
- A drawstring bag
- These are a great way to organize everything.
- They can also be reused.
- I color code the bags. Purple bags have pads in them. Black ones do not. Kids bags are multiple colors.
For the first few years I did this, I stored all the bags in cardboard boxes and that's how I transported them to the site. However, this year I got these awesome containers. They have wheels to allow for easy transport and can be reused. They are pretty strong to it minimizes the chance of the box breaking open.
I hope this article helps you in starting a project like this in your own city. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out!