How To Serve A Homeless Person: Guide To Gift Bags

Also seen on The Huffington Post:

We can help a homeless person by serving him/her food, a blanket and/or necessary items.  It’s a pretty simple and wonderful thing to do.

In this article, I would like to propose a way to share items with homeless people. This distribution method of serving an unhoused person has worked for Children Helping Poor and Homeless People volunteers for over twenty-two years. I will discuss “the charitable giving of food” in detail in a later article.

Let’s start from the beginning – we’d like to share something with a homeless person/people, but what should we share and how can we do share it?

First, we ask ourselves, what would we like to share with those in need.  Not sure?  On our website,, there is a “Can You Help?” button which, once clicked on, will reveal a number of suggestions of how to help.

One of our favorite projects is to assemble one or more Gift Bags, also known as, Survival Kits or Toiletry Bags.  The goal of this project is to fill a bag(s) with new hotel/motel size toiletries and then give them to homeless people.

Although any bag or container can be used, we suggest using gallon zip lock bags for a number of reasons: they are big enough to fit a lot of items; a homeless person can reuse the bag; and because the top of the bag can be securely closed, the car/transportation vehicle is safe from spillage.

Having selected Gift Bags as our project, we can then think about the toiletry items we want to include in each Gift Bag.  This is a very important part of this project because we are raising our own awareness.  We can let our minds wonder and imagine what personal items a homeless person could use.  We might even ask ourselves what personal items we would want if we were homeless.

For more ideas of personal items to include in the Gift Bag, we can refer to a list of just some of these items on our website, and click on the ” “Can You Help?” button.

We can then make a list of these toiletry items and share this list with our extended family, classroom, school and others to raise awareness and to generate more personal items.  We can also purchase toiletries at reasonable prices at discount stores such as The 99 Cent Store or Big Lots.

After our collection is complete, we can sort these wonderful toiletries into piles of similar items, such as a pile of combs, a pile of toothbrushes and a pile of toothpaste.

Then, we put one or several of each item into each bag.  This assembly process is great fun and can be done by young people and adults alike.

After our Gift Bags are assembled, we can bring them to homeless people we’ve seen in any area, place or park.  For example, in Los Angeles County, we frequently distribute to people in need on the Santa Monica Promenade or at Venice Beach.

We follow several guidelines when we share/distribute anything to anyone:

1.  We always serve in a group with two or more adults.  We are a team.  We always stay together.

2.  We always serve others in a well-lit area.

3. We always use our common sense.  For example, we don’t like to be awakened when we are sleeping, so we don’t wake a homeless person up to serve him/her anything.  We can put the item(s) nearby without disturbing the sleeping person.

4.  The homeless children, women and men are our guests.  How do we treat a guest?  With kindness and respect.

5.  We use special words when serving another person.  We say, “Excuse me, Sir or Madam, do you know anyone who could use this ____________ ?  Fill in the blank, which in this case, is a Gift Bag filled with toiletries.

We have found that the person we are asking will usually respond in one of three ways,

1. 1% of the time he/she will say,  “No, I don’t.”
Our response: “Thank you, have a nice day!”

2. 1% of the time he/she will say, “Yes, there is a person who could use it right over there.”
Our response:   “Thank you, have a nice day!”

3. 98% of the time he/she will say,  “Yes, I could!”
Our response:   “Wow, that’s great!  Here you are.  Have a nice day!”

That’s it.

Creating Gift Bags is a lot of fun, but I can assure you that the distribution, this sharing, is the very best part.

I hope that you will consider direct service.  It’s good for all of us.


Direct Service: How You Can Help Someone In Need

Also seen on The Huffington Post:

Do you ever wonder who could possibly help a homeless person?  The answer is each of us can help.  It’s called direct service – helping someone in need ourselves.

But how?  There are many ways to help a person in need, including giving a homeless person a blanket. That’s how we started Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (

There is a law that prohibits sleeping on a beach in Los Angeles County at night. However, prior to 1988, this law did not apply to the area known as Venice Beach.  So people without homes came to Venice Beach to sleep legally on the beach.  Further, police officers would escort homeless people to Venice Beach so they had a legal place to sleep.

By the winter of 1987, there were hundreds of homeless people sleeping legally each night on Venice Beach. Each morning, some of these homeless people would leave the beach and walk by our home in Venice on their way to spend the day at a local park.  The park had benches where the homeless people could sit, swings for their children and bathrooms that were open for public use free of charge.

At night, these homeless people would often walk past our home on their way back to the beach to sleep.

I must admit that I had fears about the homeless strangers who passed by my home on what seemed like a daily basis.  I also had genuine concerns about their welfare when I saw homeless children, women and men without clothing appropriate for the weather. I was particularly moved when I saw a pregnant woman without shoes walking on the cold sidewalk.

I told my best friend, Augustine, that I didn’t know what I should do about the homeless people walking by my home.

Augustine responded, “Well, give them a blanket.”

“Okay, I’ll bring a blanket to The Salvation Army.”

“No,” said Augustine, a little louder this time, “Give them a blanket.”

“Okay, I’ll bring a blanket to Goodwill,” I said, a little worried about where this conversation was going.

“No, said Augustine, obviously for the last time, “give THEM a blanket.”


Upon arriving home, I found an extra yellow blanket, got back into my car and drove until I saw a homeless man walking down the sidewalk.

Parking, but leaving the car door ajar, I took the blanket and approached the homeless man.

“Excuse me sir,” I said timidly, “Would you like this blanket?”

The man made no response.

Over the years, we have found that when sharing items with homeless people, it was more respectful to say, “Excuse me, do you know anyone who could use this blanket?”  But this was the first time we performed direct service so we just did our best.

I really did not know what to say next.  So, I repeated myself, but this time I spoke more loudly, “Excuse me sir, would you like this blanket?”

There was still no response from the man.

So, I extended the blanket toward the man and his arms came up to accept the blanket.

Going back to my car, I was half way across the street when the homeless man called out,

“Thank you!  God bless you, Sister.”

“You’re welcome, Sir.  God bless you.”

I was very surprised at how good I felt.

At home, I found my children, Chrissy, 8 years old, and Patrick, 6 years old, sitting at the kitchen table with some of their neighborhood friends.

Excitedly, I told them how great I felt because I had just given a blanket directly to a homeless man.

Chrissy looked up and said,  “Well, Mom, we could do that.”

Patrick nodded his head in agreement.

I had to agree with my children that they could indeed give a blanket to a homeless person, just like I had done.  Their friends wanted to help, too.

The friends all ran to their own homes and soon came back with blankets for homeless people.  After getting the permission of their parents, I took the friends, my children and fifteen blankets to the beach.

It took under five minutes to give away the fifteen blankets to grateful homeless people. Chrissy, Patrick and their friends were so happy that they were able to give the blankets directly to people in need.  On the way home, the children discussed what they had learned:

“It really was fun to help those people!”

“I didn’t know what it was going to be like.  I met really nice people.”

“They’re just like us.”

From that first blanket distribution, Children Helping Poor and Homeless People became a nationally recognized, educational outreach program conducted by children and teens with adult advisors that encourages direct service.

I am very interested in hearing about your experience of direct service. Have you had any? And be sure to include how you felt before you helped someone directly and how you felt after you helped someone directly! You might ask yourself – did my feelings, or the feelings of my child/family about homeless people change in any way after I/we helped someone directly?

On behalf of the homeless person/people you have helped, I thank you.