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With the holiday season coming up, many people participate in toy and food drives to help families in need. Often times we focus our attention on fulfilling kids' wish lists, wanting to make sure they have gifts. But while you're dropping off donations for the kids, don't forget about donating useful items for the moms, dads, and other adults who are in need too. And you might be surprised to learn the things they really need.
Before I became a mom, I worked as a case manager. A lot of the men and women I worked with were homeless and most were struggling to make ends meet. Almost all of them needed help with basic items. Casual, everyday clothing was easy to acquire through donations, but nicer outfits for interviews were harder to come by.
When I read about Dana Marlowe's donation of 1,000 bras to homeless women in the Washington Post, I knew how much her project would have meant to my clients. After all, I know how much a nice new bra can boost my confidence. I also know how uncomfortable it can be to wear an old, worn out bra or one that doesn't fit properly. Nicole Price from Thrive DC was absolutely right when she said, "That's not the picture they get when they think of a homeless individual. They think of the guy on the corner. They don't think about the women who are pregnant, who are giving birth."
Nearly all of the women I worked with requested help with clothing and hygiene products. Undergarments were on the top of so many lists.
I wish I, or someone else in our community, had thought of collecting bra donations. As a case manager, I was tasked with seeking community resources when possible and stretching the small discretionary funds budget we had to work with. Nearly all of the women I worked with requested help with clothing and hygiene products. Undergarments were on the top of so many lists. Some people thought things like a nice bra were unnecessary items for them (hence the budget restrictions,) but I worked to justify them as important for self-esteem, confidence building, and necessary for job interviews.
Sometimes I could connect them to other programs or resources (that also relied on donations) for regular clothing and basic household items, but underwear and personal care products seemed harder to find. With small budgets and limited community resources, I started bringing in donations of toiletries and other personal care products from family and friends.
If you're looking for ideas on how to help those in need, here are 10 items to consider donating to a local women's shelter:
Toiletries (deodorant, soap, shampoo, etc.)
Pads and tampons
Diapers and wipes
Cosmetics and nail polish - These items can help some women feel better about their appearance, especially for job interviews.
Bus passes and gas cards - They spend a lot of time trying to get around while searching for employment, looking for housing and keeping various appointments.
Cell phones - Old phones may be given to women to use in case of an emergency or to provide a contact number for job applications. If the shelter can't use the phones themselves, they may be able to receive funds for them through an exchange program.
You can gather items on your own or start your own donation drive. Have the kids help, too! One thing I learned in my former career was how much the little things added up when people worked on getting their life where they wanted it. So whether you donate 10 items or 1,000, you are passing on hope and compassion, and that's something we all could use a little more of.