On Friday, June 29th of this year, we experienced the hottest temperature ever recorded in Nashville – 109 degrees Fahrenheit. As if that was not enough, Nashville’s high temperatures for the first couple weeks of Summer averaged 100 degrees.
These temperatures are causing many to wonder what the next few months will hold. One thing is certain, it will not take long for people to tire of the heat and begin longing for the cold days of Winter.
Six months previous to our record high, December 29th, the temperature in Nashville was a relatively pleasant 55 degrees, just half of our new record. The low for that day was a balmy 28.
What was happening on that day back in December is fairly easy to imagine. People were still procrastinating about putting their Christmas decorations back into storage. Plans for the last celebration of the season, New Year’s Eve, were being discussed and finalized. With all the food eaten since Thanksgiving, people were feeling a bit regretful, and desperate resolutions for the new year were being contemplated.
Reminiscing over the holiday season, measuring the good and bad of it all, I suspect most people considered the holidays were going well. Friends and family gathered together, shared food, laughs, and other gifts. Past traditions were honored, new traditions were created. Love for one another overcame differences so that the joy of being together could be more fully appreciated.
Moreover, the good people of Nashville, mindful of the “reason for the season”, were doing their best to extend the blessings of the holidays to others who may have not been so fortunate.. The impoverished, the orphaned,. even the homeless of the city were being blessed with kind fellowship, good food, and gifts.
For the homeless, gift bags filled with life’s little necessities have become a Nashville Christmas tradition. Individuals, families, entire church congregations participate. It is a holiday project that anyone can do.
Items of necessity, those things which people normally take for granted, are often luxuries for homeless people. These things are collected, placed in bags decorated in holiday fashion, and distributed to the homeless wherever they are found. These items may include toiletries, heath and beauty aids, and other things that would help alleviate some of the difficulties of living homeless.
But, Christmas was six months ago.
All the holiday gifts will have been used up, and the rough conditions of street life guarantees that even the more durable gifts will need replacing by now. Brand new back packs, worn all day every day for six months straight, will no doubt be threadbare. And though some people may have found a way off the streets since last Christmas, other newly homeless people will have replaced them.
There is no holiday this time of year, that inspires people to be considerate of the homeless. Until next Christmas, many needs of the homeless will go unmet. Homeless people struggle daily to meet the basic human needs of food shelter and clothing, and usually don’t have the resources to acquire for themselves the kinds of things that come in gift bags.
For this, many needs of the homeless will go unmet until next Christmas. That is an awfully long to go without. Perhaps it is time for a new tradition – a tradition of gifting the homeless as Summer begins.
So, what should be included in Summer gift bags for homeless people? Along with the usual items, the gift bags should include items that help them cope with excessive heat, humidity, and other conditions of Summer.
Staying hydrated is, of course, the most important need. Reusable water bottles are a good idea, but not every homeless person can to keep up with one, nor does every homeless person have access to a source of water. Periodically distributing bottled water to the homeless during the summer months is a great idea. Water that has been chilled is even better. Gatorade and similar products are also appreciated. Be aware, though, that caffeinated and sugary drinks can dehydrate people and make them even thirstier, so it’s best to avoid such drinks as coffee, tea, and soda.
Gift certificates to fast food restaurants not only help to feed homeless people but at the same time become an opportunity to get inside a place with air conditioning.
Being homeless is particularly rough on people’s feet, as they tend to walk and stand a great deal, especially on concrete. Because of this, healthy feet are difficult to maintain. New and clean socks and other foot care products should be a gift bag priority.
Body powder or baby powder, otherwise known as talcum is a handy way to freshen up and cool down and keep dry, especially when it will be a long time before getting to a shower.
Also consider those items you would take with you on an extended trip to a sunny place. If it is something you would want at the beach, homeless people would have a need for it on the streets. Sunscreen, cheap sunglasses, a visor or cap, etc would be helpful as well.
The making of gift bags for the homeless is a fairly simple process that can be done by one person or many. It is a great project for youth and church groups. Having many people involved will help spread out the cost so that no one person will be over burdened. Simple brown lunch bags will do, though depending on your efforts, larger bags may be needed. Young people can be employed to decorate the bags with smiley faces, stickers, and other happy crayoned images. Fill the bags with as much as you can. But, know that everything you put in the bags will have to be carried everywhere the homeless person goes, so try to not overburden them. Travel size items work best.
You might also consider adding to the gift bags things like small candies or other treats, bus passes, or hand written notes of encouragement.
Being homeless, and working to overcome it, is often the most difficult thing a person will ever do. Neither of which is done successfully without help from someone along the way. And to that end, gift bags are indispensable.
The following is a more comprehensive and yet not completely exhaustive list of things that may be included in gift bags.
Hand soap, shampoo, lotion, small towel, razors, shaving cream, toothbrush, tooth paste, mouth wash, comb, brush, chapstick, deodorant, tissues, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, nail clipper, nail file, athletes foot cream, white socks (preferably new) talcum, sunscreen, sun glasses, aspirin, vitamins, granola/protein bar, hard candy, bus passes, rain poncho, umbrella, phone card, stationary, pen, stamped envelopes, gift cards to fast food restaurants and grocery stores, etc.