As a volunteer in a food cupboard I have heard many stories that have broken my heart. Often clients are embarrassed about needing help, so they want to explain why they are asking for food or sometimes they are just overwhelmed and want to share the frustration of their struggle with someone. Even though their stories are often hard to hear, the sadness or frustration I feel is mitigated by the act of providing them with food. I feel less helpless as I watch them wheel their loaded shopping cart out to their car, knowing I have helped make their difficult time a little easier. Unfortunately, with our homeless clients, this uplifting of spirit does not always occur. The reason I am occasionally left with a sense of despair is that I can’t load a cart with food for them. There is usually no car to which they can take bags and boxes of food. I can only give them what they can carry, and it’s never enough, even for only one person.
For over a year I have been troubled by the problem homeless clients, especially those on foot, present. We can not overcome some of the limitations that prevent us from providing our homeless clients with certain types of food. For instance, if they have no way to keep food refrigerated, we can not give them food that requires refrigeration. Similarly, if they do not have a means to cook food, we can not give them anything that requires even minimal cooking, like ramen noodles. One problem unique to providing food to homeless clients that I have felt we can solve, however, is limitation on the quantity of food we are able to give them at one time. The strategy to solving this problem involves a two-pronged approach–increasing the quantity and variety of food and nonfood items specifically for the homeless and coming up with solutions that allow homeless clients on foot leave with more food.
The first prong is the somewhat easier one to tackle. For the most part, homeless clients receive different food than our non-homeless clients due to their unique living situations–no way to heat or refrigerate food and/or no can openers–which dictates the specialized food items they receive. Consequently, a majority of the food they receive comes from donations. As a result, we can only give homeless clients what we have in stock at the time. I have had several local readers express an interest in donating food and other supplies for our homeless clients. Over the summer I spent some time compiling a list of items, food and nonfood, that work for homeless clients given their unique circumstances. I will post this list of suggested items for the homeless on my webpage. It can be found on the dark blue banner at the very top of the page. I will be happy to let anyone know of a specific need we have and to collect food and non-food items anyone wishes to donate.
The second prong in the approach to solving the problem of limitations on the amount of food homeless clients can take with them involves figuring out a way for them to carry more food away, so that their allotment more closely resembles the amount an individual with transportation is able to take. When packing food for a homeless client one of the questions we ask is whether s/he has a backpack. Backpacks can be packed with heavier items and to capacity, as it is easier to carry something heavy on your back. We have on occasion gotten backpacks donated, but do not always have them on hand for new homeless clients. Additionally purchasing new ones is cost prohibitive. Consequently, I starting searching for a more inexpensive alternative. We usually pack as much food for clients as we can in boxes, but that is not very practical for homeless clients on foot, so most of their items are put into plastic bags. Over time carrying multiple plastic bags in one’s hand can become uncomfortable or even painful if the bags are heavy, as anyone who has ever gone shopping at the mall can attest. Thinking about these mall trips made me remember a sales clerk who rigged up a handle that the other handles went through so that I was only having to carry one handle in my hand. She did this mostly so I didn’t drop a bag, but the result was also more comfortable to carry.
I began searching the Internet for an item that could be fed through the handles of multiple bags and then closed, making one single handle to carry. What I found was Click and Carry. The Click and Carry is a wide plastic handle, shaped to fit comfortably in one’s hand. When the top of the handle is pushed down, it can rotate open allowing bag handles to be inserted. To secure the plastic bag handles the top is just rotated back, clicking into place. The bags can be carried in someone’s hand, or if the bag straps are long enough, they can be carried over the shoulder, allowing up to 50 lbs. to be carried at once. I contacted the company and explained what I wanted to use the Click and Carry for. The owner has graciously offered us a generous discount and the cheapest shipping she can find. I am currently awaiting shipment of our first batch and can’t wait to start providing them for our homeless clients.
Often when I sit down to write a blog post it is draining, because the subject matter can be bleak and depressing, or like the last post I wrote, frustrating and exasperating. For me, I find it necessary to have positive news or events every so often. They give me hope and keep me going. I am excited about the Click and Carry and can not wait to receive them and start providing them to homeless clients. In anticipation of an increase in supplies for our homeless clients, I straightened and reorganized the shelves where we store items appropriate for homeless clients to make more space. I am hopeful that these actions will more successfully help us in assisting our homeless clients.