Melanie is helping to lead our 2016 annual Rucksgiving, and put together this awesome post, covering lots of people’s questions, concerns and giving some guidance, especially if this is your first year! You can follow more on her personal blog, here.
We are thrilled you are interested in helping with our annual Rucksgiving event this year!! Rucksgiving is an event put together by the New England Spahtens and New England chapters of Team RWB where we bring all of the items we have collected to hand out to people on the streets of Boston and various shelters. In this post, I would like to share some tips for interacting with people and what to bring/say (and what to avoid). If this is your first time serving others in this type of capacity, it can be a bit intimidating and you want to do the right thing. You are already heading in the right direction by wanting to help and wanting to understand and connect with people! Having served in different settings in different countries, and reviewing different articles, I have compiled the following tip list. If you think of anything I may have missed, please feel free to comment below!!
Before you go remember that for many people you will meet,
“life is very hard and very chaotic. You will find quite a few people who will be very appreciative of your help; others will be so jaded by past experiences they are not at a place where they can feel the love you offer. Offer it anyway. In the end, love always wins.” (Love Wins Ministries)
Also remember, there are many reasons why someone might be homeless (ie lost a job, runaway child, battling a mental illness/PTSD, medical disaster) don’t assume they are homeless (or are homeless for any particular reason).
Good Things to Bring
- Hotels, dollar stores, and bulk stores are great places to buy/ask for donations for supplies.
- Tarps are in high demand for those who do not stay in or have access to shelters (inexpensive at stores like Harbor Freight). Please note, tarps would be better gifts as you interact with people at home. Most people we interact with for Rucksgiving specifically stay in shelters.
- If you receive/buy any pre-owned clothing, wash it, fold it, and label it with the size in masking tape.
- Baby wipes are great for cleaning dirty hands and are better than soap (less messy for quick clean up).
- Socks and underwear are in high demand, but should be new.
- Bottled water!!!!
- Do not mix food with toiletries (then snacks taste like soap) separate in freezer bags, they block smell better.
- Lip balm, lotion, and sunscreen
- Snacks – (easy to chew as they may or may not have access to dental care) fruit/applesauce/pudding cups, soft chewy granola bars, fresh fruit, crackers/cookies, beef jerky, small nuts/trail mix, and hard candy
- Travel mugs to gas stations that give discount refills
- $5-10 gift cards to restaurants/grocery stores
- Travel size first aid kids
- Hand warmers/hats
- Warm gloves (not little knit ones that are decorative)
- Large/XL warm outer layers
Good Things to Say
- FIRST!!!! Look each person you interact with in the eye and say “Hi, how are you?” or “Good morning.”
- Ask him/her what his/her name is, shake his/her hand.
- Let him/her know what you have or ask him/her what (s)he needs (don’t start the conversation with “Here I have homeless kits or free stuff” and hand it to them).
- Talk to them with genuine interest and recognize their value as an individual.
- Speak to each person the same way you would to a friend, family member, or coworker.
- If you are able to have a conversation, avoid having debates. Sit next to or get on the same eye level as the person you are speaking with.
- Don’t tell them what to do or lecture them.
- Regardless of your position on giving someone cash money, still acknowledge someone if they ask. “I don’t have money, but is there another way I can help you?” (Not everyone will be homeless and may not need a place to sleep, but he or she may desperately need something else).
- “Did you catch the game” or another neutral topic, “Good morning,” “How are you doing? Would you like to talk?” (open ended).
- “I will keep you in my thoughts” (or if you are a person of faith, offer to pray with them-AFTER talking with them).
Good Things to Avoid
- Do not mistake your discomfort for a lack of safety. If this is your first time interacting with people in this setting, you will likely be uncomfortable. Getting out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable. Focus on the people you are serving rather than your discomfort. (Do remember to be smart though, for Rucksgiving stay with the group. When you go back home, stay in pairs and in well-lit areas).
- If someone is sleeping and they appear homeless, only leave one small bag of supplies. He or she may spend the night in a shelter or move locations. Many shelters limit how many bags a person can bring in with them. If they cannot carry it, they may have to decide to throw something out or have difficultly moving.
- Rather than simply handing someone that appears homeless a bag of supplies (because they may not be or they may not need what you are handing them) ask them if there is anything they might need.
What to do After Rucksgiving
- Go where people are!
- If you are able to interact with someone repeatedly (ie you pass them on your way to work), ask them what they have difficulty finding and could use.
- For continued ways to connect once you get home, check out this article.
Have you signed up for Rucksgiving yet? Want to know more about the event or how to join us? Click on the button below!
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