This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive this holiday season.
My daughter Scarlet is six and-a-half years old: a first grader! Which means that she is learning about a lot of new stuff (beyond common core math – that’s a whole other post). One thing on her mind as of late has been the idea of “community helpers” and our social responsibility to the people around us.
As Thanksgiving approaches, we’ve been using our downtime during car rides around town to discuss the things we feel grateful for (our health, our family, our home) and in turn, ways that we can help others who aren’t as lucky right now. We wanted to figure out what we could do to help.
To give you a little background: We live in Los Angeles, which means we drive everywhere. We don’t have a DVD player in the car, and I don’t hand over my phone as a means of tuning her out very often, because I like using our drive-time as time to connect. One afternoon we were discussing this topic of gratitude right as we stopped at a particular intersection near our home where we often encounter people asking for help. Scarlet always wants to give a few dollars to the man, woman, or family we see, and on this day she asks me, with a concerned look on her face, how they ended up there. I wish I could’ve explained it to her in a way that made any kind of sense, but really homelessness is a complicated topic with so many different causes. All I could say is that we don’t know their stories, or how they ended up where they are; but the people asking for help on that street corner were not much different than us, and we should feel a kinship with, and a responsibility to help, people who find themselves in that situation. Scarlet replied that it just wasn’t fair. She said that because we have a house and a car, we could help. And she was right. She is right. I want to encourage this caring spirit in her, but sometimes when we are in the car on our in-town errands, I just don’t have any bills on me. And that means we have to drive away from people in need without doing anything to help them. When this happens it breaks Scarlet’s heart, and mine too! But together, we had an idea.
So as we were mulling over what we, as a family, could do to assist our community, Scarlet said she would like to help the people we see when we are driving. I explained to her that while we are very lucky, we don’t have enough money to give everyone we meet the funds to purchase a home. However, I explained, we do have enough money to give something, maybe a type of gift, to help. I asked her what she thought that gift could be. Scarlet thought about this for a few days. She face-timed her grandmother, who volunteers at a shelter in Sacramento, to ask for advice, then she made a list of all the things she learned that someone currently without a home might like to receive. She presented me the list, and together we refined it to include things our family could afford to give (the original list started with “house” so we had to get realistic) that a person going through a hard time might like to get.
Armed with our list, we set about putting together care packages we could hand out from the car. We went shopping,
packed them up,
and then Scarlet insisted on including a piece of artwork (because “my artwork always makes you feel happy mommy, maybe it will make someone else feel happy too”).
Now every time we hop into the car, instead of complaining about boredom, Scarlet is looking for someone to help. Our family has learned so much from doing this project together. This experience opened the floodgates to conversations about appreciating what we have, and doing what we can to share it and care for others.
Click through to read the full post about our effort to Help the Homeless with Car Care Packages, and consider doing something similar with your family this season.
Helping the Homeless with Car Care Packages
Here is how we went about making our car care packages…
First, we made a list of what to buy. This list is based on my own experience volunteering at a Los Angeles homeless shelter, as well as input from Scarlet’s meemah, and a some truly unique ideas from Scarlet herself.
Next we took our list to our local around-a-dollar-per-item store and purchased as much as we could there. Then we dug up a coupon for a drug store and went there to buy everything we hadn’t found yet.
While we were shopping, a few new ideas occured to Scarlet that weren’t on the original list. Here is what we ended up purchasing. We will start with the packaging:
As you can imagine, I have a strong innate desire to wrap everything in kraft paper and seal it with washi tape. While we know that being homeless doesn’t mean you stop appreciating cutely packaged items, it just didn’t seem practical to use non-waterproof packaging or tape that could rip. We decided that these packages should be useful first and foremost, so here is what we chose:
Manila envelopes: This was to pack a “writing kit” to include in the bigger bag. Scarlet felt strongly that we should provide some means of writing, drawing, and mailing for people that may not have any clean paper. I never thought of this, but in the end I think it was a lovely idea.
1 quart plastic zip bags: These we would pack with toiletries and place inside a bigger bag with all the other items. We wanted to keep it separate so it could be easily carried into a bathroom, letting everything else stay dry.
2 gallon plastic freezer bags: These are big enough to hold everything, but not too big to carry, as well as waterproof, frost-proof, and resistant to tearing. We would pack the two smaller “kits” within this bigger bag, and then also fill it with other items.
We decided to start by making eight kits to distribute. We spent about $100 on the eight kits, which Scarlet said was “worth it.” I agree, though I think when we make a new set, we will ask local business to contribute (Are you a local business owner? Would you say yes if a child asked you to participate in this endeavor? I feel like many would, but would love your opinion on if you would contribute, and if so, the best way to ask for contributions in the comments).
1. Writing Kit
This may seem like the least “necessary” of all the items we included, but it was very important to Scarlet, so I obliged. As I said before, I actually think this was a really lovely thought when the kits were all completed. Scarlet said “What if someone wants to write a letter home but doesn’t have money for a stamp?” Good point. And really, homeless or not, we all deal with so many bureaucratic things through the mail, it just makes sense to do what we can to make it easier. So we included these items in a manila envelope:
-Pad of paper
-Stamps (we placed our stamps on the envelopes because Scarlet wanted to, but you could include them separately)
In the quart-size bags, we included basic toiletries. One of the things that really hit home when I was volunteering at a homeless shelter was how hard it can be to feel clean when things like shampoo or razors are out of your budget (much less access to a shower). We placed these toiletry items in a smaller waterproof plastic bag so they could be easily carried into a bathroom.
-Shampoo/Conditioner in one
We wanted to create kits without an expiration date, but we realized that hunger is a major concern for people who are currently homeless. We decided to include energy bars and gift cards to local fast food restaurants for $5 each. My husband purchased the gift cards and Scarlet wrote a note on each one.
We also purchased bottles of water to hand out with the bags.
-$5 Gift cards
During our research we learned of some things (surprising to us) that people living without a home could need (that now seem obvious). Scarlet also thought of a few things while we were shopping (like small LED flashlights “because it’s dark at night if you don’t have electricity, and that’s scary”) that I had never considered. Maybe you will learn from this list as much as we did:
-First aid kits (with bandages, antiseptic, etc.)
-Painkillers: Medicine is expensive, and personal aches and pains tend to go unattended when food and shelter are more pressing issues
-Hand sanitizer (Getting sick while homeless can mean the end to all hope, so anything that can help prevent illness is essential)
-Gum (Fresh breath is a universally good feeling)
-Socks: We learned that clean socks (and also underwear) are some of the hardest things to come by for people between homes (because used socks are not something that is ever donated – they have to be given new) and that having clean, warm feet is a wonderful thing that we might be taking for granted. So we purchased standard mens’ athletic socks in size 10-13 in hopes they would work for the majority of people we meet.
-Tissues (We wanted to include wet wipes, because they are easier to use without a sink, but we couldn’t find any smaller sizes than your traditional giant baby wipe bag, so we went with tissues)
-Mini LED flashlights with batteries (See Scarlet’s thoughts on this above)
So after we went shopping, we set about packing up our kits. We piled all of the contents on the ground and started by laying out the bags. Then we began to pack them up. Actually, Scarlet began to pack them up and told me to leave her alone, because she wanted to do it herself. So I did.
Then Scarlet stated that she would like to include a letter for each recipient. I did not see any reason to disagree, so she and her dad sat down to craft messages together.
Scarlet decided that she would like to do a happy drawing for each person. I can’t say I have any idea how it would feel to recieve a package like this, but a child’s drawing always brightens my day. It might not be the most useful, but maybe it could be the best part?
When we are all done, Scarlet headed out to the car to place the care packages in the backseat, ready for giving.
I would love to know if you think this was a good idea, and any advice you have for improving our care packages. Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments! If you make care packages for the homeless, please share your creations with us via facebook, twitter, pinterest, and instagram, and hashtag them #prudentcarepackage so we can spread your ideas and improvements! Happy Thanksgiving season from my family to yours!
This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive this holiday season.
What a terrific project and learning exercise for everyone. I’m sure you’ll make a lot of lives just a little bit better with these packages. Love the idea of including artwork!
This is a great idea and more people should be so loving and kind as you and your daughter. I recently became homeless and had to leave Los Angeles i moved back to Kansas City Mo. And it’s so hard to get off the streets with out help . This brought tears to my eyes and made me cry . We all have a different storys of how we got here but we all need the same thing . And the product you give are some of the thing people take for granted. But these are the things that some of the most important things we need so we dont look are smell bad and society wont step over or avoid us . God Bless you for doing somthing to try and help .
Thank you so much for your note. I am so sorry you had to go through that! Much love and blessings to you for the new year.
What a beautiful idea. You must be so proud to be raising such a compassionate and empathetic girl. I just passed a young man today and wanted to give him something besides money.
This is quite brilliant. I love that Scarlet included her art work and the stamped envelopes and writing material are pure genius.
Please give that little girl of yours a big hug from her number one Canadian fan.
Colleen!! thank you for your comment! I can’t believe its been a year and a half since i’ve seen you. Hopefully we shall meet again.
Thats a very generous bag! So sweet of Scarlet to make pictures for them all too. If you do more bags, you can usually find a small packet of wet wipes in the travel size bins at target. I carry those around in my purse. Also at the dollar store you can often find small size wipes.
Since she is so civic minded, if you guys are here for the holidays you should check out the volunteer activity we do as a family. It seems right up her alley. I just wrote it up on my blog to try to recruit some of our friends to join us! Would be nice to see you guys out there too. http://nobackhome.com/holiday-volunteering-with-kids/ (hope it’s ok to post that!)
This is so beautiful. I love that she had to think of it from their perspective. I had heard of the socks thing before, but hadn’t thought of a flashlight or painkillers. We are fortunate to live in a rural area that does not have a visible homeless population, but I will definitely be having my daughter make at least one of these so she can think from a homeless person’s perspective. I’m sure it will come in handy the next time we travel.
This is an amazing idea! I don’t live in an area where we see many homeless, but where we used to live I would always feel bad that I often didn’t have cash to give the several people we would see on daily errands— this is a brilliant solution! Kudos to your daughter for thinking up some really useful items to include. It’s about to snow in my area so I’m thinking about things to stay warm (hand warmers, gloves, hats), but since you’re in a warm area maybe rain ponchos (those little pre-packaged ones) might also be useful. And maybe chapstick?
Such a great, practical way of helping the homeless. Love it.
I love this!!! And hearing the process that generated the bags. My son (5) draws little heart figures like that as well, he calls them “muffy tuffs”. No idea why. Haha. I think my boys would really enjoy doing something like this as well. I’m interested to hear if you get local stores to donate items for your bag.
This was so inspired I cried a little! My daughter is 3 and I’ve already begun to teach the importance of giving back. Each year we make bathroom kits and donate them to the local shelter. I plan on showing this article to others via Facebook to spread the good thoughts and kind idea!
My boys and I will be making these. We see many homeless people on our everyday commute in Chicago. We talk a lot about why they are asking for help and give when we can. Now that the weather is below freezing, we’ll also include gloves, handwarmers, and a hat.
[…] This is a great idea […]
Something most people don’t know is that a good portion of the USA are only 1-2 paychecks from being homeless. Scarlet, please try to keep that beautiful, selfless attitude as you grow up in an increasingly selfish world. And Mom, you keep on helping your amazing daughter help those who need help. Something you might keep in little snack-size baggies are a few dog biscuits. Some people who are homeless have a pup with them for companionship. These can easily be added to your care packages. You can buy really big bags of little hone-shaped dog biscuits at your local big box store or pet store. So many people had a 4-footed friend living with them when they became homeless.
That’s a wonderful idea, thank you!
This is a beautiful idea. I’m a den leader for my local cub scout troop. One of our electives is to help the homeless. I think I will have to look more into our shelters and have the boys create these packages to take to the shelter.
Perhaps a book. I imagine homeless people spend many long hours with nothing to engage their minds. Bookstores new and used may occasionally rotate stock and have books to give away, or you can get them for a low price. We are on our way to the dollar store today to create care packages. Thank you for your article and for all the good ideas of what to include! Have you read what Salt Lake City is doing for the homeless? Google it–I know it will encourage you! I’m hoping my city (Denver) will take notice and start such a program!
Fantastic job! One suggestion I have would be to include sanitary items for any females you see. I can’t imagine for a second how terribly hopeless life would feel being homeless and getting your period on top of it.
AHAHAHAHA SHE A HOE LMAO AHAHAHAHHAA
[…] Packages for Homeless Vets – Jaime’s thoughtful post on Helping the Homeless with Car Car Packages, is a practical way to help homeless […]
Scarlet is so thoughtful and your follow through with her turned her desire into a family project that is an encouragement to all, especially in the days and weeks before Thanksgiving and Christmas. I especially loved her idea for the writing kit. 🙂 I wanted to pass along something that I read recently when I began considering a similar project. It is not meant to say that anything you have done is wrong, but just something to ponder:
1. Include this: baby wipes, lip balm, lotion, sunscreen. Not this: soap, hand sanitizer, mouthwash (Mostly because the “soap” smell contaminates all the other items in the bag, like food, but also because anywhere that there is access to a shower, there will be soap as well.)
2. Include this: applesauce, pudding cups, trail mix, beef jerky. Nor this: Crunchy granola bars, sticky food or candy. (Reason is that those who are living on the street, do not have access to regular dental care.)
3. include this: travel coffee mugs, gift cards, socks, band aids. Not this: used items, shampoo, religious literature. (Mostly self explanatory, but as far as the religious literature goes, it is recommended as something to do in person, perhaps offering to pray with them.)
4. Do this: Hand deliver, smile, go in groups, stay and chat. Not this: Throw out of your car, go alone. (Again, makes sense and hand delivering from your car, with a smile, seems like it would work well for any one you see while driving around. The encouragement here is to make a connection, and Scarlet has gone over the top to personalize her bags. Very thoughtful.)
Thanks again for sharing this project.
After a very emotional experience in downtown Toronto this past weekend, My family were inspired to make care packages as well. Ours were 20 dollars each, we went to the dollar store and value village for most items and got socks and snacks at Costco. We put a blanket and small pillow in the bottom of a reusable grocery bag, then in Ziplock bags we added: nail clippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, neutral deoderant, wet wipes, tissues. In the food bag: water, rice krispie squares, and granola bars! We are also going to put in a hand written note. Its important to us to let others know that they are loved, special, and important!! Good luck with your bags!
This is really a lovely idea. We have so many homeless in Chicago and I’d love our family to do something like this. Scarlet is some amazing kid.
This is fantastic! After studying the book of Mosiah verse which says “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” I was impressed that we aren’t doing enough for our homeless so was inspired to start making gift bags to give out. I was so pleased to see that this is something the Lord has been inspiring many of his children to do throughout the world! I’m so glad to have found so many great hurts if advice on what to include but this story really touched me as we have a little girl that we want to raise to care for her community and follow Christ’s example of serving all but especially the down trodden. Thank you for taking the time to share this beautiful experience!
I love this idea, even if I start with one t a time until we can do more. Scarlet is an amazing child!!
Thank you very much for your ingenious ideas, we live in Southern California and if it’s not the Earthquakes then it is the wild fires which plague our beautiful state and not to mention people falling into misfortune of being homeless. We have been trying to put something like the personal care kit together for a long time and your ideas seem to have hit the nail.
Thank you so much, God bless you and your family. It’s people like you that make the world go round.
I know this was a couple of years ago, but it’s important to not give them hand sanitizer or anything else with alcohol in it as they will sometimes drink it to get drunk. Opt for alcohol free wipes. My boyfriend and I have just started doing this and we are looking at different ways to source materials so we can do even more. Dollar Tree had most of everything that we needed so we were able to put a lot of stuff into a bag. Keep up the good work with Scarlet!
It’s Christmas 2017 and i’m looking Scarlett’s grrreat list over for idea’s… so thoughtful & sweet. I’m an older adult and i know its never too late to learn from a child. Thank you Scarlett, Mom & Dad too… your kind actions speak volumes and do so much more than just having the thought or speaking words.
Sorry ‘Scarlet’ i misspelled your name… so sending you a smile across the miles. 🙂
This is really great. Thanks for sharing! I wanted to also put out there that if people want to share care packages but don’t have the time to put them together themselves, they can subscribe to a service like Givr, which sends two care packages each month straight to your door.
This is a new organization run by volunteers! Check it out at beagivr.com.
the girl is so cute