Notice them

We're at the very start of autumn where the weather is still warm and the nights are starting too cool down a little, but before we know it, it will be blustery and cold and firmly in that fall-winter weather. Something I always start to think about this time of year is how lucky I am to have a warm home, a pantry of food, running water and a nice bed to sleep in. I am very aware of how many people are not as fortunate as I am.

Last year at a gas station when it was so cold outside I couldn't take my hands out of my pockets for even a minute before they turned stiff, I met a man sitting outside a gas station. He appeared to have no where to go to warm up, and everyone who walked by just ignored him. He didn't ask anyone for anything, but he was clearly cold, hungry, and possibly homeless. No one noticed him, and it was making me so upset as I sat waiting for our gas to finish pumping that I got out of the car and went over to talk to him. I was frustrated all I had to offer him was an unopened water bottle and gatorade I brought with me in the car -- no money, no blanket. I offered him the gloves I was wearing but he was so grateful for the water and said it was enough. I wished him well, got back in the car, we left, and I immediately started crying.

I hate feeling helpless and selfish in that moment -- that I have so much and could do so little. This year, I'm getting ahead of that feeling by stocking my car with things. Today, I went on Amazon and put together a pack of 12 essentials to keep in my car (and Peter's) that I can give to people asking for help, or just looking like they may need it. I rarely have cash on me, and working in Drug Court I know sometimes giving homeless people money makes them nervous, but there are things we can do to help. First, we can notice them. Second, we can offer them some basics. I thought I'd share what's in my essential pack in case anyone who feels like I do when they see someone on the side of the road wants to put something together themselves.

First, I bought a 12-pack of plain black drawstring backpacks. I thought this would be a good, discrete way of giving people items. Useful to deliver the items in for them, and it would still be useful after they have used everything inside all up. I got this pack of 12 for $16.99 on Amazon.

What's inside:
*Unless stated otherwise, I bought the following items in packs of 12 to make a dozen essentials kits.
  • Emergency Mylar Blankets (Only $9.95): These are great and SO affordable. They reflect body heat if worn one way, and reflect the heat from the sun if flipped the other way. They're also weather-proof and fold down very compact.
  • Baby Wipes (I bought these from Amazon, but bulk stores/other brands may have better deals): Some people may not have access to showers, but getting to clean your face and wipe down your hands/arms makes a world of a difference. Baby wipes are gentle, usually don't have a lot of perfumes, and can be found in more affordable bulk prices than makeup removing wipes.
  • Gum (Wintermint): Freshens mouth and something to chew on. Chewing gum is also a great way to temporarily trick the stomach into thinking it is full/getting food. It is also great for people who have smoked.
  • Hearty Soup with Pop-Tab Open (I got a case of Progresso): Progresso is great because they have the easy-open pop-tab tops. I was looking at tuna, but most of the cans needed a can opener. This soup, I got the beef and vegetable flavor, is heavy and filling and can be eaten warmed up or straight from the can.
  • Chapstick (Pack of 24): Being out in the weather has a way of drying out the lips, and there's nothing so uncomfortable as cracking lips getting worse in the wind. The pack of 24 lets me put two chapsticks in each bag.
  • Hats (Unisex Beanies): This one's easy. Cold nights equal cold ears, and heat escapes so quickly and easily through your head. These hats come in a few colors, I got gray, and will work for men and women and fit anyone. 
  • Gloves (Stretchy Knit): This follows the hats. These one-size gloves should fit most people, and while they're not as warm as fleece gloves, they will definitely help. I got them in gray/stripes so they show dirt less, and are not a loud/bright color that would draw attention. 
  • Granola Bars (Pack of 36, 3 bars in each kit): Another quick, easy food to add in that is nutritious and easy to eat. This jumbo pack from Nature Valley I bought comes with enough bars that I can have three in each kit, and it's very affordable!
  • Hanes Socks (I bought two packs of 12 so each kit could have 2 pairs): Warm, dry feet make a huge difference. I remember one year my shoes got wet from the snow and I had to walk around in them, with cold, wet socks, for the rest of the day. It was miserable, my feet ached, and it made me even colder than I already was. I was going to get only one pack of 12, but I figured 2 packs would be better so I could include two dry pairs of socks that they could rotate so hopefully they always had a dry pair.
I am also planning on buying a pack or two of Gatorade at the store to include in the kits. I may also include water with the Gatorade, but I want to give a sugary/salty drink that will help stay hydrated longer. All in all, for making a dozen kits with all of the materials above, each pack comes out to about $17 each -- which is what I would spend if I bought lunch at work. 

This is very doable. We don't have to keep looking away and avoiding eye contact when we see someone on the streets. It feels so much better to be able to DO something for them, and this is so, so doable. It's affordable, it's easy (thanks to stores like Amazon, where I can order everything online at affordable prices and get delivered right to my door). I know I can't help everyone, but I can help some. 

We need to stop ignoring people and start noticing them. I will never look at the money I put toward this and regret doing it. I would surely regret not doing it the first time I saw someone on the streets I can't help. It's time to start doing something.

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