Many times now, I have founded groups or worked with groups which produce care packages for unhoused people. These usually include a few essentials in a plastic bag which can quickly and easily be handed to unhoused people.
As part of co-founding the first bay area chapter of Burners Without Borders, one of the initial projects we wanted to do is launch a new care packages group in the bay area and then branch out into multiple subgroups to serve the larger area.
Because of covid, all of our projects were put on hold as we refactor and struggle personally to adapt to this year’s rapidly changing conditions and rapidly overlapping disasters.
Changes This Time
I have done some research of my own and I think this project can safely go ahead. There are three main changes to the past models for this project.
First, the items in the care packages will need to be updated to reflect the current disasters.
Second, the way we build the care packages needs to change. Since we can’t gather together, we will need to assemble the packages separately. This feels different to many of the people I’ve talked to, but really it’s not different. In the past, we have always had each person bring like a hundred of one item (ie water bottles) and then everyone mixes their items together into all the bags, and finally we all take a small portion of the bags. The only difference now is that we will simply each buy all the items for a smaller number of bags. The amount we each pay will be about the same or maybe even less.
Third, we need to safely distribute the bags. I have tried several methods and it’s actually very easy to do this. Simply approach the person and set the bag down, explaining that it contains food and water for them, and then walk away. It’s not as awkward or uncomfortable as it sounds, and based on the feedback from many past partners, this will probably feel more comfortable for them than actually handing the bags to people.
For this test run, I’m planning to make about a dozen bags and see how cheap I can get them. Then we will make adjustments before launching the larger next-phase of the project.
Here is the list of items I am including in my test run before we launch the project in the next few weeks.
- Thermal Blankets: Today, the leading cause of death for unhoused people here in the richest city in the world is exposure to the elements. It’s starting to get cold and several of the unhoused people I have recently talked to are asking for blankets. Using thermal blankets has several advantages: they’re very warm, they pack easily, they’re waterproof, and since they are affordable for us, it’s easy to give out a lot of them.
- Personally I would really prefer to give out bivvies instead of thermal blankets, but I have not yet found a cheap enough option. This would mean people have a warm, waterproof, packable sleeping bag. I have been researching the potential to make these ourselves but ideally I’d really like to find a cheap source online.
- Hand sanitizer: These are the cheapest individual-sized hand sanitizer bottles I could find. These are also refillable.
- Disposable masks: Masks are only effective if they are clean. Reusable masks are great but without being able to wash them, they’re actually not any better. These ones cost about $0.25 each, so I am planning to include several of them in each care package. I discussed the need for smoke masks with several experts who advised against including N95 masks because for most people they are not going to work any better than surgical masks unless they are being professionally fitted and the people are shaving daily. These masks seem like the best option.
- Granola bars: these are a vital part of the care packages because everyone needs to eat and even though it’s not going to feed them for long, at least it’s something.
- Complete nutrition shake: This is a little pricey but I think it’s worth including something that can help fill unmet nutrition needs. These contain all the vitamins and minerals that people might be missing, so I have decided to include these in my care packages.
- Water bottle: Water is obvious. Everyone needs water and this is one of the cheapest items in the care packages.
- Toilet paper: This is an essential that can’t be left out.
I have ordered these items and will be assembling and distributing these packages. Soon, we will be launching a zoom meeting to discuss the project with the public and solicit partners and donations.