Simply put, it is because we want to be good stewards of the funds and resources we are provided. After a decade of service to the men women and children of west Orange County, we have learned what gets used, what gets discarded and what meets the physical and nutritional needs of the community we serve. Approximately 75% of our Guests are unsheltered, living on the street, in abandoned buildings, or in other places not suitable for human habitation. The entirety of their possessions and sustenance must be transported in a backpack or duffel bag. The other 25% of our Guests have limited ability to store and cook food or accumulate things due to a transient, homeless lifestyle which may include moves between hotels or the homes of friends.
So, we get picky. For example, although it may seem fiscally responsible to get the large sizes of shampoo, body wash and conditioner, we ask for the Travel Size. Travel size hygiene items have no true street value and can’t be used to trade for alcohol or illegal drugs. Yet equally important is the practical aspect of Travel Sized items. The next time you take a shower, look around. Imagine putting all those big bottles you use every day into a backpack. Now, add in a few days of food, maybe a change of clothes, some bottles of water, a sleeping bag, and a flashlight. I bet that backpack is getting rather heavy. Our Guests experience that same challenge and the first items they discard to lighten the load are the heavy bottles of hygiene items. Or extra-large cans of food. Certainly, large sized food items seem like they would be more cost effective but in fact anything that cannot be consumed in one sitting may become contaminated by bugs or is subject to spoilage without refrigeration. Spoiled food is a major source of illness to the homeless. And on a practical level, many have no place to prepare meals, nor do they have any way to store what they do not immediately eat. In short, single serve food items are easier to prepare, are safer and have less waste. They fit easily into a backpack and can be eaten right from the container.
But even more importantly, to achieve our mission, we try to create a regular interface with our Guests and smaller sizes will last the few days between our Outreach days. Small sized items encourage Guests to return and engage with us as we strive to build trust so that we might help them move forward.
We never want the specifics of our requests to be interpreted as ungrateful or “picky.” We simply want to be good stewards of the resources we are provided and effectively support the community we serve.