Category Archives: homelessness

Tips on Goodie Bags for the Homeless

homeless bags

This picture has been floating around Facebook for a while now. Whoever made this bag had good intentions and a generous heart, and there are many versions of these bags being handed out all across the country. Over the past 6 years of running a homeless ministry, we’ve learned a few things about the needs of our street friends. We know what’s practical and what isn’t, so I’d like to help you improve on these goodie bags.

We call our version of these, SEVENS Packs. Ours include our contact information, a bottle of water, assorted snacks, a pair of new socks, and when we’ve received enough through donations, a gift card for a fast food meal and/or a $10 gift card to a grocery store.

Here are some tips for making your own goodie bags, no matter where you live.

WHAT TO INCLUDE

If you don’t know what would be helpful to the needy people in your area, ask someone who does. The organizations who walk beside the homeless and hurting can tell you what the needs are, and what they have in surplus. This will save you time and money.

Toiletries

NEVER mix toiletries in with food items. The smell/taste of things like soap, deodorant, and toothpaste permeate everything else in the bag, and the food will not be edible. We once received a large donation of bags similar to this one and we had to throw all of the food items away.

Bars of soap are cheap, but they’re bulky and messy. Baby wipes are a better option for a quick clean up. Any place our street friends can access a shower will have soap, shampoo, etc. for them to use. Any toiletries should be put in a separate bag, and we suggest freezer bags instead of storage bags because of the thicker plastic. Suggested items:

  • Baby wipes/wet wipes
  • Lip balm
  • Lotion
  • Sunscreen

Snacks

In general, our street friends do not have access to dental care other than teeth extraction, so we try to stick with easy to chew snacks instead of crunchy ones, though a variety is nice. They trade what they don’t like for items they do.

  • Fruit /applesauce/pudding cups (with or without a plastic spoon)
  • Chewy granola bars (Cereal bars tend to get crushed into mush)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Assorted crackers or cookies
  • Fruit snacks
  • Beef Jerky (this is a favorite even though it’s hard to chew)
  • Small bags of nuts or trail mix
  • Hard candy like peppermints or butterscotch
  • Bottled water

Misc. Gifts

It doesn’t have to be a holiday to give gifts. Some of the things on this list aren’t really gifts as much as possible needed items when you call the streets your home.

  • Travel coffee mugs from local gas stations that get them discounted coffee refills
  • New socks – When you travel everywhere by foot, clean, dry socks are a must.
  • $5-$10 gift cards to nearby restaurants or grocery stores
  • Travel size first aid kits

Winter Items

  • Hand warmers
  • Warm gloves (NOT the little knit ones that don’t keep anyone warm)
  • Beanies

WHAT NOT TO INCLUDE

  • Used items
  • Hotel shampoos & soaps
  • Religious Literature*

*A Note for my Christian Friends:

Homelessness does not equal Godlessness. PLEASE do not include religious literature. Your intentions are good, and your motivation sharing the love of Jesus, but don’t assume anything. Unless you have the time to build a relationship with someone, you don’t know what their story is and what role religion has played in it, both good and bad. Trust that God was on the streets long before you came into the picture, and faith conversations happen within the context of relationship.

ONE LAST THING

Presentation is important. Look people in the eye. Smile. Offer your gift in love and without agenda.

You’re giving hope and help to someone who is walking through a dark time in their life.

That matters, and it tells them that they matter too.

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Prayers for Eddie

(Originally posted at nikinowell.com)

Yesterday I got a text from a friend who had heard about a stabbing in Boulder involving 3 homeless men. She wanted to know if we knew them. I read the article and looked at the thumbnail picture of the suspect and was thankful that no, I didn’t recognize the face or the name. But one of our other street friends posted something on Facebook today that made us investigate further and we were shocked to find out that the suspect was in fact our friend Eddie. I hadn’t recognized him because he wears his hair differently than the picture and because you couldn’t enlarge it to see it better.

Eddie, who plays the guitar left-handed on the mall. Eddie, who has 2 sweet little girls that live with their mom. Eddie, who Tanner met when he was here for Spring Break and reconnected with this summer while he was here interning with us. Eddie, who visited church with us and wept through the service. Eddie, who is grateful for everything he has. Eddie, who I happily introduced my parents to last Sunday. Eddie, my friend.

Benny is doing his best to get in to see Eddie, but we have heard, and the newspaper has now run this as well, that he claims it was self-defense. He is not a violent guy and the other street people know this too. Many have given that statement to the police. It is still under investigation, and I would appreciate it if you’d pray for my friend. Even if it wasn’t self-defense – and I believe in my gut that it was – I would stand by Eddie through this process.

Being homeless isn’t easy, and it’s not a choice for everyone. I’ll end this now before getting on that particular soapbox. I’ll update this when I know more. Thanks for praying.

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My how I’ve changed…

A man’s body was pulled from Boulder Creek yesterday. It’s the second time this month, and my very first thought was, “Oh God! Please don’t let it be anyone I know.” It’s not what I would have thought before we moved here. Back than I would have thought, “How sad!” and gone on with my day. Now news like that stops me cold. It got me thinking about how far I’ve come – how much I’ve changed. I am still me, but I’m a better version. Growth is good. My edges are smoother, the hardness softened, I have thicker skin, and more patience. God has made me pliable, more loving and forgiving, and definitely more dependent on Him. I’ve let go of so many preconceived notions about others, found a deep community of friends, walked through healing of some of my childhood horrors, and stepped into a new life of writing and speaking.

Yes, I’ve changed. The past 7 years have held such beautiful moments of triumph and crushing moments of sorrow. I’ve experienced new life and the sting of death. I know more is to come, but this post is about seeing how I’ve changed in practical and visible ways.

7 years ago, if the weatherman reported a forecast of a blizzard, I would smile and think, “Yes! Good napping weather, hot chocolate, pajama days.” Now I worry about my friends who live on the street and hope they find shelter with warmth and welcome.

7 years ago, I threw away food when it hit its expiration date. (Like it magically goes bad at midnight on that day??) Now, I am choosy about the food I get rid of and I not only share with friends in need, I feed my family on America’s leftovers. I use lots of coupons, shop at bakery outlets, and frequent a food bank.

7 years ago, I thought homeless people were middle-aged men with missing teeth, holding brown bags wrapped around a bottle. Now I know they are just like me. They have family and friends, problems and stress, and cover all ages from birth to 100 years old. They are someone’s daughter, son, father, or mother. Like me, they have a story to tell and need someone to listen and care.

7 years ago, I relied on a steady paycheck with insurance for my kids and money to pay for swimming lessons. Now I rely on God moving in people’s hearts and donations to our ministry so we can pay our bills, feed our family, and share what we have with our street friends. There is no money for lessons or insurance.

7 years ago, I was nervous pulling up to a stop light if there was a person there holding a sign asking for money, food, or work. Now stop lights are opportunities for me to chat, ask a name, and offer bottled water, new socks, and snacks to the person with the sign.

7 years ago, I hoped for miracles of healing. Now I manifest them.

7 years ago, I stepped out of the church (full-time ministry) and into the world. Now I step out of the world (full-time ministry) to speak at churches.

7 years ago, I was pretty self-centered and loved people like me. Now I’m less so and love people whom I have little in common with, and I’ve been surprised by who those people are. They’re not who you might think.

7 years ago, I thought my faith was real. Now I know it is.

I’ve come a long way and I’m looking more and more like the me I am made to be.

What about you? How have you changed in the last 7 years?

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Bizarre Foods focuses on Homelessness

Join host Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods on March 1st, as he spotlights food/homelessness in San Francisco. For every viewer that tunes in, the travel channel will make a donation to the 100,000 Homes campaign.

The teaser video clip mentions the freegan lifestyle and dumpster diving for food, which reminds me of one of the best documentary films I saw in 2010, DIVE! As a result of our church watching this film, we began picking up food (that would have been thrown away) from a local Whole Foods twice a week and delivering it to a food bank where it could be distributed to hungry people in our community.

I’m all about bringing awareness to homelessness and hunger issues!

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Christmas Day 2008

christmas-2008-009

Our Christmas tree this year is a small, 3 foot, pre-lit, simple decoration. We’ve had a rough December and didn’t have the energy to pull out our regular tree and all the trimmings. Simple is good and our pretty little tree served as a reminder to me that not everything has to be over the top to be be beautiful or hold great meaning. So it has been with our Christmas celebration this year. There were no parties or gatherings to attend, no “white elephant” gift exchanges, and no big holiday meals planned. We went simple and did our best to live up to what SEVENS is about…rest. We enjoyed each other, kept our tradition of baking and going to the movies as a family, and loved on our friends on the streets.

After the movie, we headed to Boulder. The unusually warm weather increased our chances of finding our friends, and though many of our “regulars” have traveled to warmer climates for the winter, we didn’t have to look very hard to find some friends in need of things to keep them warm. We were able to give away several shirts, socks, gloves, and scarves and had the chance to visit for a bit with our friend “Cap” (not his real name). He was hanging out with a few friends at the Circle K, near the dumpsters he camps next to for the winter. He told us he’s been clean (off alcohol) for 8 weeks today. Cap does odd and end jobs like shoveling and taking out the trash in exchange for free coffee and hot chocolate and the occasional bite to eat. He’s living day by day but doesn’t think he’ll be around next summer. Cap’s body is riddled with cancer. I don’t know much of his story, but I can tell you he served our country as a United States Marine in his younger days, and he has seven daughters. Both of these things are a source of pride for him. Today his eyes were a crystal clear blue as he smiled and laughed with us, told us about his daughters and where he grew up, and posed for a picture with Benny and the kids. Nothing “over the top” seemed to happen, but it held great meaning for him and for us.

Today is the day we celebrate that miraculous night 2000+ years ago when nothing “over the top” happened…or so it would appear to most of the world. But on that night, as it did today with our friend Cap, Heaven touched earth. God smiled and said, “I love you” as only He can. All those years ago He sent His son to live with us. He was homeless at the beginning and again at the end of his life, but God made sure there were people that loved him and met his needs. I am humbled when God sends our family to love on those He’s wooing, and I am grateful for the role you play with us. God is good ALL the time. So today I’m praying that God’s love and provision be “over the top” for you and for the “Caps” in our world this holiday season. Peace to you and your family and Merry Christmas!

~Niki~

christmas-2008-028

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Christmas in Action: Serving Your Community This Holiday Season

by Jason Boyett, Relevant Writer

 

“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” No doubt you’ve heard the axiom before. It’s often used to condemn no-strings-attached giving to the poor. Cliché or not, it paints a nice picture. Unfortunately, the saying only pains half the picture—it’s great to teach a man to fish, but if the man has no fishing gear and no water nearby, how do you expect the knowledge of how to fish to do anything for him?

 

   
 

That’s the plight of the poor. As it is for millions of people across the planet, poverty is a problem in the United States as well. And while dealing with the problem of poverty involves “helping the poor to help themselves,” we need to remember that such a solution is long-term. What are we to do in the short-term? You can’t alleviate the problem by yourself; no one can. But what you can do is distribute some grace to your corner of the world. The thing to remember is that helping the poor isn’t just about donating money. It’s about meeting needs.  The holidays are always stressful, and it’s easy to get consumed with buying presents, traveling and spending lots of money on Christmas-related activities. But December doesn’t have to be a time that we forget about those in need. Here are several ways you can reach out to the needy this Christmas season:


HOMELESS SHELTERS
If you live in a city of any size, there is probably at least one homeless shelter that helps people with meals, beds, hygiene and other services. Most shelters welcome volunteers for a number of activities, from preparing and distributing meals to working in the business office.

 

FOOD BANKS
Surveys indicate up to 40 percent of people serviced by community food banks at one time or another, had to decide between eating and paying rent. If that’s a decision you’ve never had to make, why not find a way to help out? Community food banks are instrumental in assisting the poor in your community, particularly around the holidays. They employ volunteers to sort and collect salvaged food (much of which comes from area supermarkets), distribute bread, manage inventory and perform office tasks. You can help by doing the above or by organizing and giving to inventory builders like canned food drives.

 

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
Since 1976, Habitat has built in excess of 100,000 simple houses across the world for families lacking adequate shelter. A non-denominational, non-profit organization, Habitat sells its houses via interest-free mortgages. The homes are built by the homeowners themselves and a team of volunteers. If you have any sort of construction, electrical or plumbing skills, you’re exactly the kind of volunteer help Habitat needs. For those who don’t know a Philips from a flathead, Habitat projects provide a fun, unintimidating environment to learn—all the while helping a very appreciative family. Contact your local chapter, or visit www.habitat.org.

 

CLOTHING & NECESSITIES
Most of us have far too many clothes—in our closet, stuff we haven’t worn in years. When you run out of space, resist the urge to sell your old clothing on consignment or in garage sales. Instead, donate it to a charity like the Salvation Army or its equivalent. My wife and I worked one weekend a few years ago with a downtown women’s center, the kind of place where battered women stay until they get their lives back together. We discovered the center was always in need of decent women’s clothing, in addition to baby supplies and kids’ clothes. After that weekend, Aimee cleaned out her closet immediately. If you have a full closet or baby clothes you’ll never use again, why not give them to someone who’ll treasure them?

 

BE THOUGHTFUL
I know many kind people who just don’t feel right about giving money to the homeless, worrying that they may be paying for an alcohol addiction or their next drug fix. But the truly compassionate still find a way to give. I know of one elderly lady who has begun collecting coupons or gift certificates for free meals at local restaurants. She keeps them in the ashtray of her car, and is happy to pass them along to the hungry. Once, my sister, who was 16 at the time, was moved to tears by the sight of a small family on the street corner with a sign that read, simply, “hungry.” She had no cash on her, but told the family to wait five minutes. She sped home and made peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches out of an entire loaf of bread, shoved the sandwiches back in the bread sack, and returned to the family. Tears were shed on their end, too.

 

BE KIND
If you have a chance to interact with the needy, make a point to talk to them like you would any individual—your neighbor, a business associate, a family member. Often, there’s no better gift than the feeling of worth and civilization they feel when someone treats them like a real person. I once read a newspaper feature on the homeless, in which one of the individuals profiled said something I’ll always remember: “You don’t think I feel like crap when a generous person takes me into a restaurant and feeds me? Here I am in the clothes I wore yesterday and smelling like trash. But you can take my mind off that by speaking nicely to me and not looking down on me.”

The poor aren’t just looking for money. They’re looking for understanding, significance, a human connection—gifts to which no dollar amount applies.

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First night on the streets

I guest blogged on my friend Jan’s blog this week. She is hosting a blanket drive for SEVENS this month and I wanted to share a true story with her from our own experiences. The following is what I shared along with a prayer she wrote. Thank you Jan for joining us in our efforts.blanket

The wind was blowing through my jacket and I huddled closer to my husband as we stood there watching the sun sink in the distance. We were at one of our Thursday night meals for our friends that live on the streets. Our kids were playing with the kids that happened to be at the park with their parents for “The feeding.” December was a few short days away and we were in for some record low temperatures. Since beginning our work with streetkids, cold nights took on a whole new meaning to me. I thought of the places our friends on the streets had to choose from to get out of the cold. Some of them didn’t have many choices and were just bracing themselves the best they could. Tunnels, under bridges, in bushes, in rundown empty warehouses, and tents set up where they could find a place to hide them. Some of our friends would just wander the streets during the night and find a place to sleep in the sun during the day. Some would collect spare change from people downtown and put their money together for a one night stay at a run-down hotel on Colfax. All of them, just trying to survive another day.

As we were keeping one eye on our kids and chatting with a couple of our street friends, another one of our streetkids brought a new kid up and introduced us.

“His name’s Ricky and he doesn’t have anything man” said our friend. “Could you give him money for a hotel or something?”

“We’re not able to do that, but he can check with…” the conversation lasted less than five minutes. Ricky was high and there was no way he was going to get money from an agency to stay anywhere. He was about to spend his first night on the streets and boy was it cold out. My heart sunk as I reminded myself why we had our policy to never bring home streetkids for the night. I went to the van to see what we had that might help Ricky stay warm. I remembered that we keep an Indian blanket in the back for emergencies. Thankfully we had two in there. As I handed them to my husband, our eyes met and he said, “I know.” He knew I was worried about Ricky and feeling a little helpless as to how to fix his problems.

That’s me, always wanting to fix things. It’s hard when I can’t. Even though I couldn’t fix Ricky’s situation for him, I could do something. Two blankets, hot food, friendship, and maybe some hope. I knew God had us right where he wanted us, providing two blankets for a scared kid. Maybe next time we’ll get to talk more, hear his story, and eventually share the greatest story ever written. Two blankets=an opportunity to live out loving our neighbor. That reminds me, I should go check the van and make sure I have a few blankets in there.

Father- we pray tonight for the hurting teens like Ricky, who are on the streets for the first time. Provide them with a safe place to spend the night and surround them with your angels. We pray that they would have an unquenchable need to discover your freedom and love.

Father, open the hearts of those who have become hardened or insensitive to the needs of the homeless in their area. We pray for an outpouring of your Holy Spirit to fall upon them so they can experience the blessings you have for them through giving.

Thank you for Nowell Family and the faith you have given them to step into this calling. We pray for abundance in their ministry both spiritually and financially. Move on the hearts of the hurting souls they help, and the hearts of those who have the financial ability to contribute blankets and other donations.

In Jesus precious name, Amen

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ – Matthew 25: 34-36 (NIV)

 

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