While I was driving the other day, I passed by an older homeless man. As I always do, I reached over to the passenger side of my car and grabbed a granola bar from the box. I smiled and handed it to him, expecting a head nod or thank you in return. Instead, he asked if I had a plastic bag that he could have since there were ants where he is staying.

I must admit, I was a bit thrown off guard by this. I have never been asked for anything more before. Unfortunately, I never have any plastic bags with me, so I could not offer him one. For the first time, I began to consider what it would be like if I were homeless. I take plastic bags for granted and throw them away all the time. What if a single plastic bag was the only way to keep pesky insects out of my food supply?

I have decided to change the way that I give to the homeless. I am guilty of picking out the cheapest box of granola bars to hand out to the people who need food the most. This act has left me feeling proud of myself instead of feeling compassion for the person. In reality, the act of giving should not be about the giver, but about the receiver.

I have vowed to begin to pick out the best for the homeless. After researching what people really need, I have created a list of the best items to buy. (Prices found at Walmart.com)

1. As already mentioned, a plastic bag

This can help the homeless keep out unwanted critters as well as dirt and rain. Plus, plastic bags are incredible cheap at 200 count for only $3.97.

2. Reusable water bottle

We all love water bottles - the homeless are no exception. You can find water bottles for under $5. Just be sure to fill it up before handing it out.

3. Socks

Don’t underestimate the empowerment of a new pair of socks. I know that I feel like I have a new start when I begin the day out with new socks. I can only imagine what it would mean to someone who desperately needs them. One pair of socks is under $1 if you buy them in a pack.

4. Baby Wipes

When I think about helping the homeless, baby wipes don't even cross my mind, yet these are a necessity. When you live outside or in a shelter, everything feels dirty. A simple pack of baby wipes can allow someone to clean themselves or their belongings easily. One pack of 80 is about $1.67

5. Healthy food

How often do we give the homeless something we actually want to eat? I think that it is easy to forget that they have likes and dislikes too. Instead of buying the cheapest thing that we can find, how about “splurging” for something worth eating? Try buying trail mix or other non-perishables.

6. Soft Food

An additional note on giving food is that several of the homeless have not had proper dental care; therefore, their teeth cannot handle items such as nuts or apples. I suggest carrying around a banana or applesauce (with a spoon) to hand out.

7. Toothbrush and toothpaste

How often do you go to the dentist and receive a free toothbrush? I know that I have received these toothbrushes and not used them since they weren’t the type that I prefer. What if instead of letting these items collect dust, we donated them to someone who would appreciate them? Additionally, one toothbrush can be found for 75 cents and toothpaste can be found for $1.67.

8. Backpack

Not everyone can afford to give every homeless person a backpack. However, this donation is treasured. When someone who is homeless receives a backpack, it allows them to easily carry their belongings around and keep them away from the elements. Consider giving away your old backpack or purchasing one to offer. Backpack can be found for $6.88 and above.

Ten dollars is two or three coffees. Do we need the caffeine as much as someone needs a bite to eat and something to keep them warm?

Friends, let's help those in need. I believe that we have the power to change the world around us. Go and spread joy!