Christmas Gift Guide for the Homeless

This one is pretty close to my heart.  At work I get to buy the Christmas gifts for the guys at the Salvation Army Community Centre and I have a lot of fun doing it.

Last year I got them nice duffle bags and a watch/wallet gift set.  We also got a big donation of men’s boxer shorts from Wal-Mart and we let the guys sort those out.  It was hilarious because there was Simpson’s boxers, Montreal Expos boxers, and other funny boxers. We laid them out in the chapel on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning there was underwear soaring through the air like fish at Pike’s Market as guys figured out sizes and preferences.  I think they got a bigger kick out of the Saskatoon Gotch Market than anything that day.  Some of the guys had never owned a watch and were in tears.

In the past, we have given out fleece jackets, electric razors, Christmas stockings full of loot, and other bits of clothing.

This year we are going to give out some hoodies (Christmas brought to you by Bill Bilichick but we won’t cut off their sleeves) and a shaving kit full of shaving supplies, toiletries that we don’t keep in stock at the Centre and for the guys who are just passing through, winter survival kits. We are also giving out some leather bound NLT Bibles. (that’s the plan so far but all plans are subject to change)

We get a lot of requests over the holidays about what to get people in the shelter.  It’s a tough time for many guys who stay in shelters.  Being homeless is a tough experience anytime of the season but even harder at Christmas. I thought I would post a Christmas Gift Guide for those that are homeless and living in a shelter.

Take a look and see what you can help with and make Christmas a little nicer for those that live in a shelter.

Simple Luxuries

  • A couple of years ago someone donated some Old Spice Body Wash.  The tagline on it said, If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist. which brought a lot of laughs for the guys that we gave it to.  From places like Dollarama you can get imitation brands of stuff for $1 and it smells pretty good.  Guys love it.  If you are so inclined, get them a body scrub puff as well.
  • We give out free razors at the Centre.  The general rule is that when guys say thanks to us for them, we jokingly tell them not to.  They are that bad.  I have used them once and the screams could be heard for miles.  A great luxury is a decent razor.  Walmart and most pharmacies have their Gillette Sensor clones with inexpensive replacement blades.  Disposable packages of Gillette or Schick razors are awesome as well.  If you can toss in some travel packages of shaving cream, all the better.
  • Towels: No one ever has a towel and we always need more of them to give out.  I tend to agree with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that a nice new towel is a wonderful luxury.  It’s a big source of frustration with me as some guys tend to demand towels and a towel service but others love them and take care of them.  All I know is we can always use more of them.  New towels, used towels, you name it.
  • A nice insulated travel mug with a secure leak proof lid :: One of thing that most people don’t understand is that most of our guys are working and some of them are working in really tough, hard, jobs in the bitter Saskatchewan cold.  An insulated travel mug is a prized possession for a lot of guys and something like this Starbucks tumbler would be great.  I am not saying that you need to get one of these, I am just saying a mug that won’t spill is a big deal.  Dollarama has some stainless steel mugs for $1 but their lids come off pretty quickly but they often have thermoses that would serve the same purpose.
  • McDonalds or Tim Hortons gift cards.  You have no idea how much guys appreciate a Tim Horton’s gift card around the shelter.  Gary Smalley could write a book about Tim Hortons as a love language and it is a comfort food for guys.  Now I know a lot of you who read this are in the U.S. but all you have to do is find out what the closest coffee chain is to the shelter.  Tim Hortons, Starbucks, or Dunkin’ Donuts… you get the idea.
  • Long Distance Phone Cards :: Some of the guys at the Centre have no family while others desperately miss theirs over the holidays.  This gives them a chance to reconnect.  We gave out $5 ones a couple of years ago but they can burn through them pretty quickly.
  •  I saw this hand crank radio the other day while in XS Cargo and I thought it was a great idea for the guys.  You crank it up for 30 seconds and it will run for 20 minutes.  It also includes some headphones to go along with it so they don’t drive guys around them crazy. While they run on batteries, they don’t need them.
  • Chocolate/Candy :: I am torn over this one as so many of our clients have diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).  Then again I am going to have some candy and chocolate over Christmas so why not?  Basically if you like it, someone down at the shelter will like it.

Stuff for Work

  • In Saskatchewan, you have no idea what a difference that winter work gloves, winter jackets, fleece jackets (dress in layers), and winter coveralls can make.  It allows guys who may not have resumes or that extensive of work experience to go down to the day labour places and get some work.  Work brings in money but it also allows the guys to prove themselves.  Many of the guys in the shelter go out to a day labour place for a couple of days and get hired on by the company who brought them in.  A couple of years ago a donation came of winter work clothes, the stuff was given out and two guys found work the next day.  Within a short time they were out of the shelter and haven’t looked back since.  It’s a big deal.  You can toss in travel mugs and thermoses into this category as well.  They make working in the cold a lot easier to do.

Necessities of Life

  • The Centre has soap, shampoo, conditioner, and razors to give away for free.  We also have a clothes cave where we can give away clothes that are donated.  What we need is underwear (let’s be honest, no one donates underwear for good reason) and socks (who keeps old socks?).  We could always use new underwear and socks.  In addition, we could always use winter jackets.  During my time at the Centre, I have seen so many hitchhikers be brought in totally frozen by the RCMP or city police and the guy is in a jean jacket an that’s it.  What is frustrating is that the guys are like, I’ll just warm up and keep going in -40 weather while wearing just a jean jacket.  Generally we take them to our Clothes Cave and get some warm stuff.  Also, you have no idea how many cold kids we see who need something warm in extreme weather.  If it warms you up, we will put it to good use.

Reading Material

  • An easy to read translation of the Bible.  Over 50% of our guys at anytime in the Centre are functionally illiterate which makes the KJV translations that the Gideons give out pretty much useless.  Guys love the NLT, Message and CEV bibles when they come in and we can give them out.  Pocket versions are best as they don’t take up that much space is a pack.
  • Magazines :: Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, National Geographic ¦ you get the point.

Don’t Give These Items

  • Personally I think a multi tool would be great for 97% of our guys and they would really appreciate them but for one or two guys, the damage they would create would be immense and shelters really don’t want knives in them because of the risk they pose.
  • Computer driven electronics. I know that you can get 1 gig MP3 players for under $10 now but where are they going to get charged up, where are the guys going to get the music. Like us, many shelters really don’t want USB devices plugged into their system because virus concerns and also a lot of guys use them to carry porn along with them. It’s not that I care that much what guys are carrying on their USB devices but I do care when I have a computer full of porn and viruses to deal with.

If you have any questions or doubts, contact your local shelter and see what they can use.

9 thoughts on “Christmas Gift Guide for the Homeless”

  1. Thanks for the hot tips Jordon! I think our house group might try and collect some Tim Horton’s gift cards for the house bound guys at the “halfway house” around the corner from us.

    1. Dude, you have no idea how much guys in Salvation Army shelters love Tim Horton’s coffee cards. From what I have heard they are as big across the country as they are here so they will be appreciated. One tip: Write how much money you have put on them, it is nicer for the guys when they go into the coffee shop.

    1. Of course once we give guys socks, they just toss them out instead of washing them. It kind of drives me crazy as we have free laundry facilities. Once we explain they have to wash and dry their old ones, things go better.

      Even for guys who don’t live on the streets, you just can’t find socks in local clothes banks.

  2. Okay, I am in. I will drop off something for the guys. How many do you usually have in the Centre?
    I have a weight bench left by my Chinese students. Is this something you can use there?
    If you have someone setting up a home, I have a microwave and T.V. available. And a single bed (not the greatest anymore but would do, it is extra long)
    Thanks, Jordon, for making this list and providing the reason why these choices were made.

    1. Thanks Brenda, we will have around 50 guys in the shelter but we do customize up packages for guys depending on what we have so any quantity works out fine.

      We really can’t use a weight bench. We just don’t have the space anymore but thanks for thinking of us.

  3. Thank you so much for such a wonderful post and awesome ideas! My husband and I do Christmas for someone in need every year. This year we are new to Chicago and wanted to help some of the “regular” homeless men and women we see. I will be posting on our experience in the next week. You should check it out http:/

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