The poorest among us have the most to gain from the Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month. If you’re thinking about feeding the homeless for your #HumanityFirstDays project, here are things to consider.
The information in this blog post is based on our experience in the Dallas Yang Gang running a homeless feeding #HumanityFirstDays project on Memorial Day 2019. You can watch the video from that project on our YouTube channel.
The quick list
- Find out what your local laws say about feeding the homeless.
- Consider volunteering with your local homeless shelter directly instead.
- Consider distributing something other than food; hygiene products are one example.
- Plan your project in two parts: food prep and food distribution.
- Be considerate of dietary restrictions.
- Be considerate of the environment and use biodegradable packaging.
- Provide hope with a side of food. Learn how people who are homeless can register to vote and provide that information.
- Stay together. There is safety in numbers.
- Find where homeless people tend to congregate.
- Find a relatively safe parking spot and carpool to the location.
- Don’t give money.
- Be very discreet with your photography; uphold the dignity of others.'
- Smile and be pleasant!
Find out what your local laws say about feeding the homeless.
Unfortunately, there are some cities in the United States that make it illegal to feed the homeless. Some cities, like Dallas, TX, allow you to do a homeless feeding but have some requirements, such as notifying 311 about your plans 24 hours before the feeding takes place. Make sure to do your homework and the laws in your city and make sure to follow them to avoid getting into trouble. You might also consider calling a local homeless shelter to ask what advice they may have regarding compliance. Speaking of homeless shelters…
Consider volunteering with your local homeless shelter directly instead
Different organizations and agencies have different attitudes when it comes to groups feeding the homeless independently. You might consider asking the shelter if there’s any way you can support them directly, such as volunteering to serve food or running a food drive. This can also open the door for other cooperation opportunities, such as setting up a voter registration table inside the shelter. Working with a shelter directly can also help save you the logistical effort of distributing the food to the homeless. One thing you’ll have to take into account when going this route is whether or not the shelter will allow you to talk about Andrew Yang to their guests and to share non-food material with them.
Consider distributing something other than food.
There are challenges when it comes to distributing food. One way to avoid the hassle of food is to distribute something other than food, such as hygiene products: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, toilet paper, deodorant, diapers, etc. You can also do used shoes, fresh clothes, etc. You can also provide services, such as feet washing, haircuts, manicures, and more. You can even get creative; I’ve yet to see someone offer a resume service to the homeless. One great advantage to this approach is you can provide something that the homeless shelter doesn’t already provide.
Plan your project in two parts: food prep and food distribution.
Often times, a feeding project will take place over two events: one event to collect and prepare the food, and another for the actual distribution. Depending on how much food you have to prepare and how many hands you have available to pack food, the preparation is the more time-consuming of the two events. Make sure to plan ahead and treat these as two distinct events - you might even have two different sets of volunteers for these two events.
Be considerate of dietary restrictions.
Just because people live on the street and are willing to accept food doesn’t mean they will eat anything and everything. There are two strategies you can take here: (a) prepare multiple food options or (b) prepare one meal with inclusive ingredients. The advantage to the prior option is it allows you to provide an unusual variety to your recipients; the con is it costs more money and time for you to prepare. The latter option has the inverse pros and cons. One way to easily provide multiple food options is to make the problematic item removable. For example, if the person is lactose intolerant or vegan and can’t have cheese, have sandwiches with the cheese packed separately so you can simply remove it from the bag if they don’t want it. As long as you find a way to feed as wide a variety of people as possible, it’s entirely up to you which option to choose.
Dietary restrictions to consider:
- Vegans and vegetarians.
- Kosher and Halal. If you have meat in your food, avoid ham and beef; opt for chicken and turkey instead.
- Hard foods. Many people on the street don’t have proper teeth hygiene, so biting into something hard, like an apple, is difficult. Opt for soft fruit, like bananas, instead.
Be considerate of the environment and use biodegradable packaging.
Unfortunately, trash and recycling bins won’t always be readily available on the street. People may be inclined to simply toss your food packing where they sit. Consider the following:
- Bring a trash bag so that people can throw away their waste after accepting your food.
- Use biodegradable packaging - such as paper over plastic - so minimize your footprint if they do litter.
- Minimize packaging overall. Many municipalities will require you to individually wrap the meal before serving. It also helps practically to have your food prepared in a brown paper bag. But within the bag, consider reducing packaging for certain things.
- Remove granola bars from the plastic wrapper.
- Use paper instead of a plastic sandwich bag.
Provide hope with a side of food. Provide guidance on how to register to vote.
Do your homework and learn how the homeless can register to vote so that you can share this information with the homeless you meet. When the Dallas Yang Gang did our homeless feeding, we included a pamphlet with instructions for how to vote inside the lunch bag. We also included information about Andrew Yang and his Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month. One of the most magical things that happen when you do this kind of project is watching people's faces when they learn about Andrew Yang for the first time.
Some people will ask questions about who you are and “what group are you a part of?” Many of them are use to non-profits and churches bringing food. When they ask, use that opportunity to tell them about Andrew Yang and how they, even though they live on the street, can make a difference by registering to vote and telling everyone they know about Andrew Yang.
One thing I’ve seen in other projects do is to replace water bottle labels with information about Andrew Yang. This requires extra prep work, but it’s worth considering.
Stay safe; stay together
Of all the times I’ve interacted with the homeless, I’ve never had an incident or feared for my life. That said, you should always err on the side of safety and take every precaution. There is safety in numbers; don’t do a project like this alone. Have an itinerary that details where everyone will meet, where the distribution will happen, and where everyone will go after the distribution is completed. The leader should have everyone’s contact information, and everyone should have the leader’s contact info.
I recommend having a rendezvous point at a safe location, such as a parking lot in a good neighborhood, a church, or a trusted volunteer’s house. Carpool from the rendezvous point to the distribution location and back. The times that I’ve done a feeding program, we would stay by the van and let people come to us. If you go somewhere where feeding happens often (e.g. near a shelter) then the people there typically know how things go and will instinctively start forming a line. After the line clears up, we’ll hand-carry some meals in a box and go in pairs to hand food to people who can’t come to the van (either because they’re tired, have a disability, or just didn’t see us when we arrived).
Find where homeless people tend to congregate.
When our gang did a homeless feeding, we went to and around a local homeless shelter. Consider asking your Yang Gang if anyone is a long-time local and is familiar with the city and where homeless people tend to congregate. As your doing the distribution, you can also ask the recipients where to go next.
Avoid venturing into private property and anywhere you can’t be seen by your group or from the street. Don’t put yourself in a situation where an incident could occur, or if something did happen then a fellow volunteer couldn’t see. While I’ve never had to execute one, it’s a good idea to have a plan for what to do if an incident does occur. I don’t think there’s any reason to operate with a fearful mindset; again, I’ve personally never had an incident while interacting with people who are homeless. That said, be open to cutting the project short and getting your volunteers out of there if a situation does arise; the safety of your volunteers is your number one priority.
Don’t give money.
I don’t recommend giving people money if they ask. Unless you’ve prepared to give everyone the same amount of money, just as you’ve prepared to give everyone the same amount of food, then you’ll be setting up for a dicey situation where people are now lining up for money. I typically say, “We only have food to share today.” Whatever line you choose to go with, make sure to communicate with everyone on your team.
Be very discreet with your photography; uphold the dignity of others.
I’m a big believer in always taking photos of your events, especially your service projects. Still-images and photos allow you to share the message of your project long after you’ve packed up for the day. All that said, with projects like this, remember to respect people’s dignity and privacy. Don’t be in your face and obvious when taking videos and photos. You don’t have to completely hide your camera equipment, but do keep it discreet and non-obvious. You might get some push-back if you’re too overt with your recording.
I’m typically all-for group photos, but please take your group photos away from the distribution site. Don’t use people’s lives and hardship as a background for your photo-op. Take your group photos at the rendezvous point before or after the distribution occurs.
If your distribution occurs in a public space, such as a street or park, then most laws allow you to record with or without consent from the recorded. Nonetheless, make sure to research your state and local laws around recording.
Smile and be pleasant!
Don’t just give people food; give them a reminder that they are inherently valuable as humans and intrinsically worthy of care. We want to remind them that they’re not forgotten, they matter, and they can make a difference if they choose it.
So when you hand people food, smile! Say “Good morning! How are you?” If someone wants to chat, lend your ear. Have sanitizer handy, and shake their hand. Say “Have a good day!” as they leave. If they read the pamphlet with their food and ask about Andrew Yang, talk to them about him and encourage them to register to vote. At the end of the day, it’s not about advancing our own agenda; it’s about putting humanity first.