So, here’s a little tidbit of info about me that might surprise you: When I was 10 years old, my mom and I were homeless.
Feels strange to write that. Most people don’t know about this time in my life. In fact, as we were going through this tough time, my closest friends didn’t even know. When you’re 10 years old – or any age, for that matter – that’s not exactly something you want people to know about.
Having said that, let me just say that the memories I have of this time are some of the best memories of my life. I know, it sounds crazy, but my mom and I had a blast together and I never really considered us to be “homeless”. It was’t until I was much older that I could really grasp how desperate those times were. I can’t even imagine how my mom felt during that time, but I have to say that she’s one of the strongest women I know and I am very blessed to have her as my mom.
My story goes a little something like this:
It was 1986 and my parents were recently divorced. My mom, having been a homemaker and military wife for 13 years, had never really worked outside of the home. She didn’t even drive at that time. We stayed in military housing as long as we could, but moved out not too long after the divorce was final.
We stayed with family for about a year, then it just became too much of a strain on everyone (I would imagine having four extra people in a house is craziness! We were very blessed to have spent that time with family though). My brothers went to live with our dad in Arkansas and I stayed with my mom in California. My dad sent what money he could, which was just enough to feed us and buy us necessities (toiletries, a small amount of clothes, etc.).
Having exhausted all of our family resources and not having any friends to stay with, we camped. Yes, at a campground – in a tent and sometimes in our car. We camped from June through November at a place that was about 18 miles from where I would go to school in Anaheim. We were blessed to have found a place that had concrete restrooms with shower stalls in them, so we didn’t have to worry about showering.
The campground was a decent place. After we stayed there awhile, we learned that there were other people and families that were going through the same thing as us. We became familiar with the “regulars” at the park, so we at least had people looking out for us. The park rangers were also good about that. I remember our campsite being burglarized once. My mom and I had left for the day and returned to find that the park rangers caught some guys not only rummaging through our belongings, but actually in the process of stealing our tent! The park rangers made the guys apologize and re-assemble our tent and we never saw those guys again.
The drawback to staying at this park was that you were only allowed to camp for a certain amount of days at a time (15 days, if I remember correctly). After that time, you had to leave for a few days before you could camp again. Then you could return to the campgrounds and start the process all over again. During those few days when we weren’t at the campground, we would try our best to find stuff to do during the day. At night, we would park on the side of the road, on the overpass leading to the park, and we would sleep in our car (an old, slightly beat up, brown Chevy Malibu). We would park as close to the park as we could, so that we could just walk into the park in the morning, to shower and use the restroom.
Random thought… This was before cell phones and tablets. Back when you really had to get creative if you didn’t want to go bored out of your mind. 😛
Those nights when we had to park on the road, we would go before evening, so that we could get a “good spot”. We would be the only ones there, but when we woke in the morning, the side of the road would be full of cars. All people who were going through the same thing we were. Sleeping in their cars on the side of the road, just trying to get by until they could camp again.
After many months of camping, we finally left the campground behind us on Thanksgiving that year. My mom had been working and we could finally afford to stay in low budget motels around Anaheim. When I say low budget, I mean low budget. The kind of motel where you don’t want to leave your room at night, as you might run into a drug dealer or prostitute. I remember one instance where two drunk guys were fighting outside our room and one of them was thrown through our front window. It’s funny now…it wasn’t so funny at the time. 😉
We moved from motel to motel for about 3 months, then FINALLY, with help from my mom’s boyfriend, we got an apartment! Funny story: By the time we got our apartment, I had been so used to eating fast food, that when my mom asked me to run across the street to buy some groceries, I was upset! I had no idea what to buy and I remember begging for fast food. (haha)
When I look back at this part of my life, I feel blessed and grateful. I would not be the woman I am today, had I not gone through this. It taught me to be a more compassionate person. When I see someone sitting on the side of the road, asking for food or money, I don’t judge. I have not walked in that person’s shoes. If God puts it on my heart to help someone, I do.
Which brings me to the reason for my incoherent rambling above (ha!)…
Christmas gift bags for the homeless shelter. I’ve wanted to do something like this for several years now, but for one reason or another, it never quite came together. God has put it on my heart that this is the year, and I am very excited about it!
I contacted the Harvey County Homeless Shelter because I wanted to make sure that 1) they would allow me to donate gift bags and 2) these items shown are all acceptable items. The shelter was very appreciative, as they are usually full in winter. They asked me if I wouldn’t mind holding these bags until Christmas Eve, since they usually have a Christmas Eve party for their residents. Of course I told them that that would work our perfectly.
The photo above shows a sample of items that will be put into these bags. My frugal self appreciates that these are inexpensive items that can be found at most stores. Free samples that you get in the mail or at stores would also be great items.
I always have a container full of samples and freebies that I receive (the floss was 100% FREE, from when I used to use coupons).
Some other items that would be great for these bags would be: mittens, travel Kleenex, any travel sized toiletries (think of those little bottles that they have at hotels – most of us snag those and take them home), disposable razors, socks, wet wipes, bottled water. (For a complete list, go here).
Luckily I still have a couple months to build up my supply of items, as I need to make at least 30 gift bags. I know that this is possible!
What I ask of each of you is this: If you feel it in your heart to help with this cause, it would be greatly appreciated. If you have travel size toiletry items laying around that you wouldn’t mind letting go of, I would gladly take them off of your hands to put in these gift bags. 🙂 Stores like Dollar Tree, Big Lots and Walmart are full of inexpensive items. (The box of granola bars shown in the photo above cost $4.98 – that’s just over $.20 per bar! I also bought a 10-pack of travel tissues for $1 at Dollar General – $.10 per pack!).
Any help or item donations would be a blessing. If this is for you, please let me know! And if this is not for you, I’m sure that you will find other ways to be a blessing to someone. Thank you ❤