With the holidays approaching, people have been inquiring about how to best gift a homeless person, particularly vendors of The Contributor. I am no expert on the subject, but I have written on it before, so I'll give you my two cents worth.
I first experienced receiving gift bags while staying at Room In The Inn, a winter shelter program for the homeless here in Nashville. When we homeless people arrived at some church to spend the night, often we found lunch size paper bags on our bunks with useful items within them. The bags contained a variety of necessities and goodies to help the homeless get through their days. Most common in the bags were travel size toiletries, soap, tooth paste and toothbrush, deodorant, nail clippers, combs, makeup and other hygiene products. There would also be small candies or other treats, trail mix, cookies, crackers and cheese packs, sometimes even a can of soda. Sometimes the bags would contain stationary, stamped envelopes, pens, and writing paper. And occasionally there would be bus passes, phone cards, and gift certificates to fast food restaurants. Not every bag I received contained all of the above. People gave as they could, and we homeless were grateful for all of it.
When thinking of gifting a homeless person there are some things to consider. The situation that homeless people find themselves in is rather precarious and likely to be in a constant state of flux. Their living arrangements can, and often do, change on a moments notice. The only storage of personal items they can somewhat depend on is what they can carry. If a thing cannot fit within a backpack, along with all their other possessions, then it's best not to gift it to a homeless person. Also, understand that some homeless people will take an item of value and sell it for something else they would rather have. If you plan on giving an item of value to a homeless person, it is be best to know the homeless person well enough so to determine if they really will benefit from it, and use it as intended.
When gifting a vendor of The Contributor, there are some specific things to consider. Most vendors are still in a state of homelessness, though working to overcome it. Still, a good number of them have some place they can call home. It may be an apartment, or it may just be a low rent hotel room or trailer. Because of the wide range of living arrangements that a vendor of the paper could possibly be in, it would be best to talk directly to your local vendor, so to get an accurate idea of his or her particular situation. For someone who has just moved into an apartment, a hand-me-down microwave oven may be the thing. For someone still living in out of their backpack, a microwave may not be so convenient. Also know that because they are currently making money, vendors may have already taken care of their more basic needs.
Still, newspaper vendors have some specific needs. The most important, in my estimation, would be a good pair of shoes or boots. Standing on concrete sidewalks all day will wear out shoes rather quickly. And a quality pair of shoes will help to lessen the wear and tear on feet, legs and backs. The cost of good shoes is often beyond most homeless vendors, and if left to their own, they'd most likely forgo the good shoes so to buy other necessities. Of course, with those shoes, or boots, should come a few pair of warm socks.
Now that winter is upon us, warm clothes are obviously in need. But know that expensive looking clothing can be a burden to the homeless who are still living on the streets or in a shelter. Expensive items are often stolen, and are difficult to keep nice. A thick flannel shirt from a discount store may be a better purchase than one from a popular catalog. Besides, you could probably get three shirts at Wal-mart for the price of one from J Crew.
Gloves are a specific need for all homeless during the winter, but especially for vendors, who will be outside several hours a day. When shopping for gloves for vendors, consider that they will be needing to use their hands for quick transactions, taking your payment and handing you the paper. Mittens would most certainly be a hindrance. Thinner, well fitting gloves, or perhaps gloves without fingertips. would be best.
I hope these few suggestions help people consider how to gift homeless people during the holidays. And these are only suggestions. You may have a better idea that I haven't mentioned here. Still, the best way to know is to spend some time getting to know the person you plan on giving to, and ask them directly what they would like. Besides, that bit of time you spend with a homeless person may just be the best gift of all.