Creating Care Packages for the Homeless

Poptart and I were appalled recently by what, in our opinion, could be called the War on the Homeless. Ignorant and cruel memes flooding Facebook, newspaper editorials from citizens complaining about having to “put up” with the less fortunate, and downright abuse and assaults like what happened to Kelly Thomas make it seem that America is a country that delights in kicking someone when he or she is down. People call the homeless lazy as if this is a worthy excuse for their hate and neglect, and they make their judgment without even knowing a person’s story. With the economic downturn, rising costs of living, and loss of quality jobs, it’s not as hard to become homeless as many assume. And it’s time people started bravely posting statements of love instead of hate.

Poptart and I live in the Bay Area, where there is a large homeless population. We’ve met a lot of homeless people. Frankly, they are some of the nicest people we’ve met. People are too complicated to put into a category, to be given a label, to be forgotten. And people should be ashamed for passing judgment as casually as they order a latte.

Poptart and I wanted to work against this antipathy toward the homeless by creating care packages for as many as we could afford so they know that there are still some who care and who have the capacity for love.  We’ll walk you through the care package and how we dispersed them in case you want to give to the homeless as well.

First, we came up with a list of items we would love to receive if we were homeless. The recent cold spell in California that has resulted in the deaths of some of the homeless reminded us how important things like blankets and socks are. We also thought vitamin and mineral deficiencies and hydration would be a major issue for someone with little access to food and water. We also wanted to include a little luxury item just for the lifting of spirits. Keeping all of this in mind, the list we came up with includes a quilt, socks, fruits and vegetables, chocolate, and a drink.  Poptart had the wonderful idea of using a 5 gallon bucket to place the items in so their recipient can protect them from the elements and use the bucket for personal hygiene or as a chair.

The quilts Poptart made by hand and used freshly laundered but worn out t-shirts for the filling.  We found nice, warm fleece on sale at a craft store. This was, by far, the most expensive item in the bucket ($60 for four quilts), but it was also the most important item, we felt.

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Poptart knitted the socks. She made them thick and big to be worn at night.  She made them from existing craft supplies, so this item cost nothing.

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Poptart also went to our local farmer’s market for fruits and vegetables. This allowed her to get a lot for a low cost and support local vendors. She got apples, but she also got oranges in case the recipient doesn’t have the teeth to handle the apple. She also got carrots because they are durable and last a long time. She got enough fruits and vegetables to fill four buckets for only $14. We washed and dried all of the produce before putting it in the buckets so it’s ready to eat. Keep in mind that recipients of the care package might not have easy access to clean water to do these basic things.

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For a drink, we chose PowerAde. We were going to go with water, but we decided on a sports drink instead because it hydrates while restoring electrolytes. A big pack of PowerAde bottles cost us just $5.

For the special luxury item, we got bars of Belgian milk chocolate (of course) for each bucket.

This time, we were able to put together four bucket care packages. Each bucket contained three bottles of PowerAde, a quilt, a pair of socks, a bag of fruits and vegetables, and a bar of chocolate. Finally, we put a content list on the lid of the bucket with pictures in case the recipient can’t read and a note wishing the owner a happy holiday season.

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We drove into San Francisco to hand out the buckets. We gave one away to a man on Fisherman’s Wharf. He seemed to be most excited about the fruit, and it warmed our hearts to see him sorting through his treasures as we walked away. We gave two more buckets away on Haight to a couple. They thanked us, and the lady told Poptart she’s pretty. They also said they would have to volunteer at the Salvation Army to repay the kindness. When we drove away, the man was going through his bucket and seemed happy.  The last bucket went to a man outside the Posey tube in Oakland. He was a little wary at first but took the bucket once we explained it had fruit inside. He seemed to think we were playing a trick on him but thanked us once he realized the gesture was genuine.

I’ve heard people say that some “homeless” are con artists and that people who give to them are suckers. Well, we’d rather be suckers with the chance of helping one person genuinely in need than to be scrooges making the world a colder, more hateful place for everyone. Altogether, the buckets cost around $100, but they brought smiles to four people. I consider this a worthy investment, and it was much more fulfilling than wasting the money on something we don’t need. If you make your own care packages and distribute them, consider what items would be most useful but also include a treat. What would you want to find in your bucket? Remember, crafting a better tomorrow for those around you crafts a better world for you and future generations.

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A Low Cost, Big Heart, Handmade Christmas

As big box retailers push Black Friday madness deeper into Thanksgiving day, as stores stock shelves with holiday merchandise earlier and earlier until the whole year feels like one big holiday shopping spree, and as retailers continue to pay workers less than a livable wage to protect large profits for the few at the top, it becomes ever more important for people to shop small, shop local, and shop smart. We are given titles like “shoppers” and “consumers.” We are told our worth, our identity, is tied to what we own: the latest device, the luxury car, the designer labels. We are told our economy’s survival depends on our hard work and loyal spending even as credit card debt increases, quality jobs are outsourced, and quality of life tanks. When did we lose our humanity? Why do we insist on conforming to the labels pasted on us?

Poptart and I made a pact this year to reject the mindless consumerism that cheapens the human spirit and have a small, handmade Christmas, and you can too. For decorations and gifts, we made as much as we could by hand with materials in the craft closet and from local stores. Gifts we couldn’t make we bought at craft fairs or local shops.

I’ll walk you through the types of decorations we made and the materials we used to give you ideas for what you can do in your own home with your own supplies, but I won’t be showing how each item is made. Many items you should be able to figure out on your own. For the rest, we plan on doing tutorials in the future. We simply want to show here that you don’t have to buy the pre-packaged Christmas on sale at big box retailers and advertised in holiday magazines. This is YOUR holiday season, and you can do it any way you choose.

Poptart and I love to put a nice, holiday wreath on our door. Poptart makes the wreaths out of all kinds of materials. She uses the plastic rings left over from industrial packing rolls, although you can use Styrofoam loops, wooden hoops, or even bend branches into loops for the frame. She uses organza, tying it in strips around the frame or twisting it around the loop. She also uses left-over wrapping paper.

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For the tree, Poptart bought an artificial one she reuses each year so she doesn’t have to buy a new one, but she also makes trees from various materials. She makes one tree from a cone of thick paper, a Styrofoam cone, or old vegetable frames (especially tomatoes) scavenged from materials stores like Scrap. She covers them with either looped, left-over wrapping paper, or if they’re wire, she wraps garland and ribbon around the frame.  She decorates the tree with homemade ornaments.

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For ornaments, you can really get creative. Let yourself return to your preschool days. Think popsicle sticks, glitter, paper snowflakes, and macaroni. Because we live near wine country, Poptart loves to use wine corks for ornaments. She makes Santas, reindeer, and carolers from wine corks. She also uses a small knitting loom to make miniature knitted wreaths. Chenille sticks (otherwise known as pipe cleaners) can be shaped into Santas, Grinches, and reindeer. You can use wooden beads and felt to make little elves to decorate shelves and table runners and paper towel rolls and foam to create adorable carolers.

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Gifts take quite a bit of work, but your attention and care will not be lost on the recipient. Making handmade gifts for loved ones requires you to pay attention, to know their interests so you can make something to surprise and delight them. And if you just don’t have the time, local crafters and artisans will have amazing, unique items for anyone on your list. If you live in the Bay Area, festivals and craft fairs are plentiful. I suggest the Patchwork Show, Renegade Craft Fair, Alameda’s Art and Wine Festival, Half Moon Bay’s Art and Pumpkin Festival, and Sundays on Telegraph. See the links below to find out more about these venues. If you want to shop online, I suggest buying from Etsy.

The important thing to remember this holiday season is that YOU have the power, and change starts with you. If you hate rude, pushy shoppers, don’t be a rude, pushy shopper. Be polite to employees, many of whom sacrifice their own holiday celebrations to help you prepare for yours. Be patient, wait your turn, and be courteous. If you make a mess while shopping, clean it up. Don’t buy something simply because you’re told to do so. This way, you won’t feel awful for weeks after getting your credit card bill. And let family and friends know that you want a wholesome, heart-felt Christmas, and that’s the type of Christmas you’ll be giving. Remember, if you support crafters and local artists, you support diversity of products and help business stay in the hands of the many instead of the pockets of the few.

Spreading Holiday Cheer with Handcrafted Ornaments

To continue the random acts of kindness started with Poptart’s tiny turkeys, Poptart made a bunch of handcrafted ornaments to give away with no strings attached (except for the ones that hold the ornament on the tree, of course).

Please remember that many are suffering financially this holiday season, and a smile and kind gesture from a stranger can not only brighten a person’s day but help him or her survive. And you don’t have to spend a lot to show you care. Poptart made all of the ornaments you see in these pictures from existing supplies in her craft closet. Most of these supplies were bought at local shops like Scrap for very little money.

Poptart decided to hand out ornaments because wherever they are placed, they will remind their owner that others care. The ornaments Poptart made include picture frames; Santas, reindeers, and carolers from wine corks; crocheted wreaths; and chenille stick Santas. She also made adorable carolers from paper towel tubes and elves from wooden beads. Literally, your supply list if you want to make similar items is as follows: yarn, a few pieces of felt, chenille sticks, wine corks, metal hooks (for antlers), paper towel rolls, a couple pieces of foam sheets, wooden beads, pom pom balls, cotton balls, googly eyes (yes, that’s technical crafting jargon), and hot glue sticks.

We will be handing out these cute bits of Christmas Cheer at the Oakland Children’s Parade on Saturday, December 7th. If you happen to receive one, you can post your picture with the ornament on Twitter with #craftingkindness, and we will post your picture below! Most importantly, please pass on random acts of kindness so we can all craft a better tomorrow!

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Update: The parade was amazing! And we had a blast distributing the ornaments. We witnessed many of them find new homes, and people have already started posting pics with their discoveries!