The Road Home From Homelessness: Easy Ways to Give Back

February 28, 2017

Possibly the most heartbreaking and serious issue facing Colorado—and many other states—is homelessness. Whether you live in a big city like Denver or Colorado Springs, or a smaller community like Boulder or Pueblo, homelessness is a very real problem. But what can we do to help our fellow men, women, and children in need?

One thing is certain: doing nothing can no longer be an option. Many of us have grown accustomed to ignoring these individuals, not because we don’t care, but because we don’t know how to help. One-off handouts can certainly be helpful in an individual’s moment of need, but what if it were possible to combine these smaller, isolated acts of kindness into a larger, systematic effort that could reach (and impact) a far greater number of people in the community? After all, as Aristotle once said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

But what does that look like? We turned to our friends, colleagues, and good ol’ Google for alternate ways to help those less fortunate aside from simply giving cash. Their suggestions? Well, see below.  

Run a donation drive with your crew

This doesn’t have to be a big to-do, and won’t require an army to pull off. Start by calling a local shelter—the Denver Rescue Mission is a good option—and seeing what items they’re in need of. To keep things simple, choose just one or two to focus on for your drive. Is it canned goods and toiletries? Winter clothing and shoes? Sheets and towels? Whatever it is you’re collecting, write an email, design a poster, or create a Facebook event to get the word out. Then, pick a day in the near future (say, one or two weeks out) that your donation drive will run until. You’ll find that people tend to come through when there’s a sense of urgency.

Make ‘goody’ bags

OK, so maybe ‘goody’ isn’t the ideal term, but the idea here is to create giveaway bags that can be easily distributed to the homeless. While this could certainly be a solo endeavor, it’s so much more fun—and productive—to get a group of people to create them together. In the latter scenario, each member of the group is responsible for contributing a different item to the bags. For example, if you’re looking to assemble bagged lunches, one person might be responsible for granola bars, another person for bottled water, another person for get the picture. You could also create toiletry bags, winter weather bags, pet food bags, you name it. Whatever you decide upon, it’s a great way to get people together, have fun, and make the act of helping others both far-reaching and cost-effective. Oh, and if you’re in need of an added dose of inspiration, check out the grassroots movement #HashtagLunchbag.

Donate gift cards

Do you have a bunch of gift cards from the holidays that are currently gathering dust on your dresser? How about dusting them off, verifying the balances, and handing them out in lieu of cash? A gift card to Gap could be used to purchase an outfit for an interview. A gift card to Panera could pay for lunch, and offer much-needed respite from the winter cold. Another idea: sell your unused cards to companies like Cardpool, and donate the money you receive to the charity of your choice.

Ask for donations instead of gifts

Consider your next birthday, wedding, or housewarming party an opportunity to forego traditional gift-giving. Instead, ask guests for monetary donations, nonperishable food items, toys, gently used clothing, gift cards, etc. After all, what were you really going to do with that third food processor?

Whether you’re volunteering at the local soup kitchen, contributing monthly to a rehab center, donating an old kitchen table to Goodwill, or opting for one of the ideas above, know that your efforts really can make a difference. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something. And remember: every little bit helps.