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  • Writer's pictureAmber Shockley

Maddie models some gift bag items

The other day when I accidentally gave a panhandler a fortune cookie fortune, I got an idea.

I’ve been trying to put together items for a small (very small) gift bag for the people asking for help whom I encounter at intersections while out running errands.

I was thinking some sort of small snack, like a snack size candy bar, but with the temperature still getting up into the 70’s here in mid-November, chocolate is not something I could keep in my car.

Then, the fortune cookie incident.

Fortune cookies! Perfect.

You can get fortune cookies in bulk relatively cheap.

Not that I want to send anyone to Amazon, on account of evil lord Jeff Bezos, but if you search “bulk items for homeless,” lots of ideas will come up. Depending on how much coin you have to invest, you could really put together something nice, and useful.

I got some quart size plastic bags to hold the items. Inside I've put...


1. A fortune cookie. CAT NOT INCLUDED. I've got just one cookie in each bag now, but I might put in two. If they don't like their first fortune, they can take another crack.

2. A rinse-free bath sponge. It looks like a cloth. This purchase was a disappointment. For some reason, I thought these were going to be individually wrapped. But they are not. The cloth is rather large, about the size of an actual wash cloth, so I folded it into a smaller square to place into the bag. I'll probably have to write a little note with instructions. All you have to do is wet it with water and wipe yourself down, but you wouldn't know that if you just got one of these loose in a bag. You wouldn't even know what the thing was, I don't think.

3. Hot Hands hand warmers. These won't be useful until it actually turns cold, I reckon, but I'll go ahead and pass them out now. A cold snap could come any day now. This purchase was another disappointment because I got confused about how many warmer packets I was getting. I read "ten warmers" and thought ten packets, but it's five packets. So, at this point, I can only make five complete gift bags. I would cut these to create ten packets, but only one packet would have the instructions on it.

4. A tiny little chapstick. Mmmm....vanilla bean. And SPF 15! Shown with toe beans for sizing.

I'm putting the bags in a box to keep them handy in my car. I figure I'll stash it in the back seat, so I can reach back when the time comes.

I'll be giving these out instead of cash, and I'm a bit concerned that people are going to be irritated or frustrated about that. I don't want to come across as someone who doesn't trust homeless people or other panhandlers with cash. When I give money, I really don't care what they spend it on. Anyone who thinks that panhandlers aren't making good use of their money if they use it to buy alcohol, drugs, or anything other than whatever someone's approved items might be should read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It's a first-hand, journalistic account of just how difficult, if not damn near impossible, it is to survive working the types of jobs that have, in the last two years, been labeled "essential". And this book was published back in 2011, before pandemic times. Things are much, much worse right now. Getting a job doesn't mean you won't be homeless. Not by a long shot. If you're never going to have enough money to get any traction in life, what you spend it on in any given day really doesn't matter.

The gift bags have nothing to do with judging how anyone would spend cash. This is more about my own limited resources - if I gave out money, I would run out of money fast, and not be able to give anyone anything. Finding cheap, but useful items and purchasing them in bulk allows me to give more people a little something.

I hope that it helps them. I hope that it makes them feel something other than struggle and misery.

Maddie is very tired from her turn as a kitty Vanna White.


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