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Backpacks For The Homeless - How It Works


Backpacks for the homeless means buying a used backpack for $1.50 at the thrift store, purchasing low cost life sustaining items to fill up the bag with and carrying it around in your car until God shows you someone who needs it. It DOESNT mean going to wal-mart and buying a bunch of new stuff. Spending a large sum of money on ONE backpack is the antithesis of this idea. The crux, the beauty and the fun of this idea is to shop at dollar stores and thrift stores for used goods, which will allow your dollar to go further, thus allowing you to help more people. You can also easily purchase most of the items needed to stock a bag at your regular grocery store.

It was never my intention, to do this alone. The only way this can truly be a great ministry to the poor, is if lots of people do it. If every Christian in constantly carried a bag with food and blankets in the trunk of their car, no one would ever be hungry or cold in this country . It's cheap and easy to do. How many times have you seen a homeless person sitting by the side of the road with a sign in their hand? I have, and it made hopelessness well up inside of me. It made me want to get out and say hello, but I didn't have time in the traffic. I didn't want to give money, because I didn't want to support alcoholism or drug addiction. This ministry is a cure fo the unanswered desire to reach out to that unreachable person.

Being a web Junkie, the first place I went was EBAY. I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted wool blankets. Wool is preferable because it dries quickly, is extremely warm, and will keep you warm, even if it is wet. After not too much looking, I was able to buy 20 wool army blankets for $2.70 each. The next step was to decide what else to put into the bag. For winter inclusion, a definite must have is a tarp. You can't buy these used, but you can get them cheaply at wal or k marts. An 8x10 foot tarp combined with the blanket can provide shelter and/or warmth in even the coldest or wettest weather. If it is freezing, zero or below, you can roll up in the tarp with the wool blanket, and most assuredly survive. In wet weather, it can be used to make a lean-to, to keep the rain off. On sunny warm days, it can be used as a ground cover, or shelter from the sun.

So, it came down to this in my winter bags =

  • 1 Used Backpack $1.50 (American Family Thrift Store)
  • Wool (if available) Blanket $2.70
  • 8 x 10 foot Tarp $3.00 (WalMart)
  • 1 Litre bottled water $.50 (Family Dollar)
  • 1 Toothbrush $1.00 (Family Dollar)
  • 1 Tube Toothpaste $1.00 (Family Dollar)
  • 1 Bar of Soap $.25 (Family Dollar)
  • 2 Cans Tuna in oil $1.00 (Family Dollar)
  • 1 Can Mandarin Orange Slices, for Vitamin C $.50 (Family Dollar)
  • 2 Cans sardines in oil $1.00 (Family Dollar)
  • 1 Quart Can Castleberry Beef Stew $2.00 (Family Dollar)
  • 1 Heavy Sweat Shirt $2.00 (American Family Thrift Store)
  • 1 Heavy pair Sweat Pants $2.00 (American Family Thrift Store)
  • 1 Knit Cap $.50 (American Family Thrift Store )
  • 1 Pair Gloves $1.00 (American Family Thrift Store)
  • 1 Can Opener $.50 (River of Life Thrift Store)
  • 1 Bible $Free (River of Life Thrift Store) Total ===== $18.95

Other things you might possibly include could be empty garbage bags, a wash cloth. Be sure to leave out anything containing alcohol. This would include mouthwash, deodorant, or disinfectants. Lots of people have asked me what to put in for summer. I will still include the blanket and the tarp, both are useful in the summer. You might think of replacing the warm clothes with more food. More food is always a good alternative. Remember to put in a variety of food including that which is high in protein. While it is a nice idea to give candy bars or crackers, this kind of food does not go far to fill the void. It's only a temporary fix, and this is not what they need. Neither does vegetarian food do much for the average homeless person. While many of us might object to the use of animals as food, it has been my experience that given a choice, most homeless people will go for the meat every time. So I choose to fill my bags with protein and fat containing foods, thus the beef stew, tuna in oil and sardines. I throw in the canned fruit because many of these people are suffering from a vitamin c deficiency.

While these backpacks are only $1.50 at the
thrift Store, I've found that you have to be careful to look for backpacks whose zippers and straps are not broken and don't have any holes.

Safety is a concern. If you are a woman, it is very possible to do this ministry and still be safe. Remember, never go into unsafe or dark places alone. But we often encounter the homeless in places like the shopping mall or the coffee house. In such public places, I think it is entirely ok to feel safe giving one of these bags to a homeless person. Remember, always, use your good judgement, listen to the spirit and let it be your guide. If you do feel uncomfortable around someone, there is no reason why you have to stop or get drawn into a conversation. Drop your pack or hand it to the person, smile, say "God Bless" and walk on.This does not have to be something just for Christians. If you are not a Christian, and you still want to pursue this practice, leave out the Bible. Help is help, no matter your beliefs.

And remember, don't just throw money at this idea. Don't buy new. Allow yourself to experience the joy of futzing through the resale shop. You can make 100 backpacks from the resale shop for what you would pay for 10 from Walmart. The idea here is to provide the most help, to as many people as possible without putting more garbage in cans, while reusing and recycling. If you want to do it, use your common sense and make your dollar go as far as possible. Search for free things if possible, pack your pack for the season, and remember to imagine what it would be like to sleep under a bridge when it's 10 degrees outside.

If you're a Christian practicing the ministry, there's a side benefit. Christ told us before he was crucified, that he was leaving us, but that he was sending the spirit of his father, the holy spirit, the comforter, to take his place.

In the 21st century, instantly gratified electronic age we live in, it's easy for us to discount the idea of a 'holy spirit.' As Christians, we do so at our peril. According to the Bible, there is only one unforgivable sin, which is to defame the Holy Spirit. There's a reason for this.

The Holy Spirit is both our conduit to God, and the channel through which God supplies his love, mercy and power to our lives. It's the "Still, Small Voice" of God.

If you want to get closer to God, there is no better way than to put yourself into a position where you can hear, feel, see and understand the way the spirit of God communicates with us. It draws us closer to God, brings us understanding and helps to build our faith.

Since I began doing Backpacks, I've probably given away close to 100 backpacks. Each and every one of those packs represented a human being who God allowed me to touch in a personal way.

I have found that the preparation involved in putting the pack together allows me the time and space to prepare my mind and heart for the act of giving it away. I've also found that God's hand is firmly on this ministry, that he blesses it in every single case where I practice it, and that by practicing it, I'm putting myself in a situation where the Holy Spirit will indeed speak to me in a real and personal way.

A good example of this took place a few years ago. I had four backpacks sitting in my laundry room which had been languishing there for a while. Generally speaking, I keep one in the car at all times, but I was going through a bit of a blue period and those packs seemed like more of a bother than anything.

One winter night, I had been working for hours. It was around 8 pm, and I needed some food. I set out to go to a local restaurant. As I was getting ready to leave, this "Still, Small Voice" spoke to me and said "take two of the packs with you." I, being the obedient servant I am, ignored it, scoffed a bit under my breath, and left without them.

I went to the restaurant, ordered my food and took my seat next to the large windows facing the sidewalk. As I sat eating, the rain came. The temperature outside was 35 degress and the rain was blowing sideways. A couple approached, hands full of grocery bags overflowing with clothes, and took shelter under the overhang outside, just feet from me on the other side of the glass.

I shook my head and apologized to God for ignoring his prompting. I went outside and introduced myself to them and met a nice couple who had just arrived in town with no money and who were living in their car. They were in their late 50's. I asked them if they could use some food and they said yes. I got in my car, drove back to the house and picked up their packs.

When they saw what I had for them, they both began to cry. They both hugged me and I cryed with them.

If you want to get in touch with the spirit of God, you can do it here.

Disclaimer: asks everyone to understand that all people, homeless or not, can be unpredicatable. Please use due dilligence, caution and common sense when approaching people. Stick to well lighted areas, where other people are and try to work in pairs when possible.