For the first eight months of our marriage, T. Rex and I were separated. He was stationed in Kansas and I remained behind in Michigan working full-time and finishing my degree.
When I did move to Kansas, the joy of finally being together was quickly overshadowed by one thing: poverty. While I can’t speak for now, in the late 1990s, low-ranking enlisted military members earned poverty-level wages. I didn’t have a job waiting for me and I had a degree that most companies found to be useless. I also had a new title: Military Wife. Which meant that businesses were unwilling to hire and train an employee who couldn’t guarantee how long she’d be in the area.
Before I found a job, we had a rough month. Two bills were due and our cupboards were literally bare. The aid society stepped in and loaned us the money for our bills, gave us two $60 vouchers for the commissary, and two grocery bags of staples. We would eat and we would stay sheltered. Any embarrassment that we were feeling was quickly replaced by gratitude. And a need to pay it forward.
Usually, we don’t tell people about what we do to help others. But in this case and during this time, we thought we’d share it. At T. Rex & the Rabbit Foods, we are all about connecting to our fellow humans through food. Right now, personal connection is really needed. Plus, this is a simple, lovely, doable thing that can help almost everyone to connect with each other.
We put together care packages and deliver them to the homeless.
Each kit contains a meal (tuna fish, milk, water, crackers, a granola bar, fruit or applesauce, and utensils); dignity (toothbrush and toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, tissues, wet wipes); warmth (socks and hand warmers); and a few dollars tucked into an envelope with the words, “You are loved” written on it. We keep the care packages in our car and pass them out when we see folks living on the street or holding up signs.
Of course, there are many arguments against doing this. We’ve heard them all:
“Don’t you know how much plastic waste is in those kits you make?”
Yes, I’m aware. And as someone who recycles everything she gets her hands on, the plastic does make me cringe. Of course, we could do it better—I saw a video of a little girl and her grandmother who sew purses for homeless women and then fill them with full-size toiletries. It’s beautiful. But, I take into account two things: I’m rubbish at sewing and in Michigan where it is often snowy, cold, and wet, a zip-top plastic bag will keep things dry and can be reused.
“Don’t you know that they’re just going to take the money and buy alcohol or meth? Don’t you know that you could get scammed?”
Is it a possibility? Sure. There are people willing to exploit your generosity and that stinks but there are many more who truly need your help. Plus, if you give someone a gift, your part is done. What that person does with your gift—if they throw it out, buy drugs, or walk around the corner and get into their sports car—is not any of your business. If you put conditions on your giving, then it’s not really a gift.
“Don’t you know you could be hurt? Or robbed?”
Once again, it’s possible. Some people may yell at you, swear, or call you names. Others may feel ashamed and that can hurt your heart. Some people are homeless because they had one rough month after another. And others because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness. More and more, however, we’re seeing young veterans and young mothers. All I can say is trust your gut. Be smart. Deliver care packages with a partner or a group and don’t allow your kids to do it on their own. Can something bad happen? Of course. Something bad can always happen but something good can, too.
“Don’t you know that you can’t save the world? That there will always be homeless people? That what you do doesn’t matter?”
We know we can’t save the world. We’re not trying to. But if we can meet a person, find out their name and story, and give them some protein and sweetness and a way to get clean and feel more human—even for a day—then it matters to that person. Who knows what that person will go on to become or to do?
There are so many reasons not to make and pass out care packages. But for us, the reason to do it is this: at a time when we needed it the most, when the world felt unsure, we were offered help. We got food when we had none. We were given a loan when we had no money. And we received both with our dignity intact. If we can pass on that sense of human connection and love that we felt all of those years ago, then any excuse not to do it seems petty.
Take a look at your community. Who is on the fringes? What do they need that you can provide—even in the smallest of ways? Maybe your community has many young mothers who are struggling…maybe you can include feminine hygiene products, diapers for their kids, or baby food. Or maybe there are veterans who have fallen through the cracks and you could include a phone card they could use to contact family, friends, or the VA. Look around…no matter where you live, there are people who need a meal, kindness, and connection.
How can you package your care to help others?