Pack the Pack: Chocolate or a gift card precious to the homeless

Thoughts and feelings flood through our minds when we see someone who looks like they’re homeless on the streets of Kelowna.

Pack the Pack founder Chelsey Miller (left) and Funktional owner Chantal Couture with a load of donated items they will distribute to Kelowna’s homeless.

For many those thoughts are charitable, but where do we start to make a difference in someone’s life?

Chelsey Miller is great person to ask. She knows this because she asks the people living on the street. She’s been a social worker and is a volunteer with Inn from the Cold, a Kelowna overnight shelter open only through the coldest winter months. Until Nov. 30, she’s collecting donations of new or gently used items for the homeless. Her program is Pack the Pack, which started as Pack the Purse a few years ago, and various businesses have volunteered their space for drop-offs.

“Socks are the big item,” Miller said this week, in the midst of collecting donations to stuff into packs, shopping bags and purses which will be distributed as the weather grows colder.

Toques, scarves and gloves are also top on the wish list, but then there’s other stuff homeless people say they need which don’t come to the top of our minds.

Like cologne. It doesn’t just smell good, it makes the wearer feel better about themselves the homeless need any boost of self-confidence and pride they can get.

“We went downtown and spoke to people,” she said. Among the top items on their wish list are razors, and “chocolate came up a lot.

“One girl told me she thought about receiving a note, ‘Hey thinking about you, have a good day,’ that sort of thing.”

Gift cards were right up there. Whether for a fast food place or affordable big box store, a gift card puts the choice in the hands of the bearer and makes them feel like any other customer.

Tiny shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles from hotels are a god-send. “Put those items in your luggage every day you’re in a hotel,” Miller said, “because they will replenish them. Keep them and donated them,” she said.

With a program called Pack the Pack, Miller needs satchels of any description to stuff the donations into, which are a valuable commodity in themselves. Gently used backpacks, cloth carry bags most stores sell for a few bucks, even purses.

Clear out your closets, or the back seat of your car where a dozen carry bags might be stashed, and donate them.

Miller also said feminine hygiene products are accepted. “I you tried a pad but don’t like them, don’t throw them out. Any shelter will accept them.”

Cash donations will be used to stock up goods so that each bag has the same selection inside.

Funktional owner Chantal Couture has been a big supporter of Pack the Pack and is one of nine drop-off spots from West Kelowna to Vernon.

For a full list of drop-off locations visit Pack the Pack 2016 on Facebook.