Want to donate to homeless shelters but unsure of what to give? Here are a few tips of less thought of items. Help people, unclutter your house, and reduce landfill waste! Victory is guaranteed!
But first: Please call ahead before you donate anything to a shelter. A lot of shelters don’t accept certain types or donations, or only accept during certain hours. It might seem silly – why wouldn’t they want this wonderful bag of blankets right this moment? But when people drop things off at all hours, it requires staff to drop whatever they are doing with a client to assist the donor. So call ahead!
1. Plastic grocery sacks.
Problem: $#!%! I left my cloth grocery bags in the car and now my little green heart feels guilty for singlehandedly destroying the earth by getting my groceries in plastic bags.
Solution: Lucky for you – homeless shelters actually tend to reuse these things. Ours uses them to pack lunches for people who can’t come to the shelter to eat, to give out food from the food bank, and to pass out to people whenever they have something they need to carry.
2. Your bumper crop
Problem: My neighbors threaten to bludgeon me if I give them any more zucchini.
Solution: It’s a little early for this, but some shelters and soup kitchens would be happy to take your produce off your hands. Different places might have different regulations, but the place in town here relies on people donating their extra zucchini, squash, tomatoes, potatoes come late summer, early fall.
3. Blankets in the Spring
Problem: I want to be really generous and donate all these hats/scarves/blankets/warm weather gear I have laying around, but it’s springtime. Will they even want it?
Solution: Check the nighttime low temperature in your area. If your thermostat was set to that temp, would you be comfortable? If not, then feel free to donate your warm weather gear to a shelter. Her in Montana it is still in the 30s and 40s at night, but people have long forgotten about it being cold out. While it’s not as dire as the sub zero temperatures of January, it can still be dangerous for people who live outside if they don’t have good jackets or blankets. These items will probably be welcomed even if it’s not snowing out.
4. Last month’s Newsweeks
Problem: My husband hoards his old magazines and they are driving me crazy. How can I get rid of them without feeling guilty about depriving him of his precious stash?
Solution: Donate them! You know, unless they’ve been sitting on the back of the toilet for the last few weeks. Some people feel more comfortable cutting out their name and address first. Leave the “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Good Housekeepings” at home.
Problem: Who needs a phonebook anyway? I’ve got myself an iPad/iPhone/Computer/really good smoke signal system.
Solution: Since homeless shelters usually aren’t rife with computers, some people still rely on this old fashion system of looking up numbers. Quaint, isn’t it? Definitely call ahead before dropping these off. No one wants you to unload your trash on them! But sometimes it’s handy to have a few extras sitting by public phones.
Solution # 2: Opt out of the Yellow Pages here.
6. Your time
Problem: I want to volunteer, serve the poor, make a difference in the world, but to be honest, I feel pretty uncomfortable at a homeless shelter.
Solution: Volunteer anyway! It’s not all serving meals. If you’re interested in serving at a shelter, but don’t want to get behind the soup line, there’s plenty else you can do. (And hey, if you do want to do the soup line thing, go for it!) Here’s a tip: Come up with suggestions of things you can do before you call the shelter, especially if you have any special skills. For instance, “I have my own shovel and pitchfork – can I help you do any yard work? Rake leaves? Plant flowers?” or “I’m a cleaning machine. Do you have any rooms that need a good deep cleaning?”
7. Your spare change
Problem: I want to help people who ask me for money, but I always hear that giving them money enables alcohol/drug addiction.
Solution: Donate your spare change directly to a shelter. Some cities have programs like “Real Change not Spare Change” that encourages people not to give to panhandlers, but to put their spare change in jars at store fronts where the proceeds go directly to a shelter. (I say this as my husband is currently writing a paper on why panhandling is a constitutional right though! Not everyone who is panhandling is doing so for their next beer – sometimes people might need gas money to get to a job interview, for instance.) If you feel uncomfortable outright rejecting people, try learning the places to get a free meal in your town and offer those suggestions. I had a friend who carried around a few Snickers bars to give to people who asked her for money.
8. Those little bottles of shampoo from hotel rooms
Problem: I hate that I use it once and it gets tossed!
Solution: Grab those bottles and little bars of soap before you leave. They are the perfect size for homeless people to carry around – much better than value-size bottles.
9. VHS tapes
Problem: Buying Jaws 3 seemed like a really good idea at the time, but now I don’t know what to do with it since I got Blue-Ray.
Solution: Some shelters (especially domestic violence shelters) have TVs and will have a “movie night” occasionally. Since shelters tend to be on the low-tech side, a lot of them have VHS tape players as their main means of entertainment. Call ahead though, and think twice before donating tapes with lots of violence or highly sexual scenes. War movies especially may trigger flashbacks for some people.
10. Your prayers
Problem: I don’t have any of the above items!
Solution: Pray. Cheap, easy, and always appreciated.
Other things that tend to always be needed:
First aid items, cleaning supplies, money, toilet paper, paper towels, vacuum cleaners that actually work,
Things no one wants:
Stained underwear, socks with holes, clothes that aren’t washed, puzzles with pieces missing, encyclopedias from 1970, your old chemistry textbook, children’s clothes at a shelter for men, old man’s clothes at a women’s shelter,