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Sourcing The Items For Your Packs

Updated Dec. 14, 2018

Download the complete list of pack contents (.pdf)
Download the complete list of pack contents (.doc)


Introduction: Specifically, obtaining items of the right quality and at a practical price would be dependent on your location but with the Internet available to most people, we have other options.

Let me say, personally, I try to support local businesses when I can and much of what I put in my packs is bought here in town. This also allows me to buy in smaller quantities and more quickly. However, when purchasing locally isn’t possible, because of availability or price, I search for online suppliers.

Below are some notes on the things I include in my packs and where I get them at this time. Naturally, things will change in the future, hopefully for the better as I home in on more direct sources. Also, I’m hoping people from other projects will submit suggestions from which we can all benefit.

Subdued colors

One thing to keep in mind is that whatever you put in the pack and the packs themselves must be subdued colors and not attract attention. Colors like black, brown, dark blue are best for everything, if possible. Attracting attention can cause conflict for homeless people which we want to avoid. Also, we don’t want to foist our sense of style on them.


IMPORTANT NOTE: All hygiene and food stuffs must be unopened and new. Nothing ‘out of date’ or used. This is important! It’s not just a matter of health but also a message that we are not giving them cast-offs but purposely selecting new and quality items for them. They experience plenty of disappointments in their lives without finding used toiletries in our packs.

Discount stores

By discount stores I mean Wal-Mart, Costco, Sam’s club, Target, Ross For Less, Kmart, Big Lots, places like that. Dollar type stores include The Dollar Store, The Dollar Tree (my favorite), Family Dollar, Dollar General and others. Be careful, except for The Dollar Tree, things don’t always cost a dollar at these stores. However, you can definitely find deals there if you look. It’s fun!

If you are able to buy in really large quantities, it opens up sources such as camping equipment supply and food distributors but you do need to figure in shipping on these items which can sometimes be a lot.

Soliciting help

Also, if you can convince local (or not) merchants to participate, they can order things in bulk for you at wholesale prices if you pay the shipping. This should not compete with their business as the items we use are not the type of things they would normally sell a lot of. In fact, many of the items, for instance, our size and type of packs, might be things of which they have a surplus. While we are specific in our needs, each individual item we use is not expensive.

Asking for donations is not everyone’s strength but when you don’t have any expectations, it’s easier. Simply explaining the project, that it’s non-denominational (if that’s the case) and not-for-profit and wondering (out loud) if a merchant or potential donor or sponsor might be interested in helping actually becomes pretty easy if you are not tied to the results. I have been continually surprised by how many people love the idea and will kick in.

I always carry a simple printed handout in my car to give people who are interested. It’s informational and helps to make the project credible. Check here for my version of this handout.

Down to specifics

Below are a few notes on where I get things. I’m hoping other projects will contribute good sources we can all share on this site to make the homeless backpack wave grow stronger.

One thing to note, I keep a lot of plastic bags on hand to separate things in the packs. The best are the ones with actual zippers on them as they are easiest to use, particularly for people whose hands may not be in the best condition. Zipper bags will be kept and are very handy for pack recipients later for many things. I also use the small, jeweler’s type bags for things like ear plugs and safety pins. These are available cheaply at hobby and art stores. I try to keep things like hygiene items bagged together, food together, emergency together, etc.



Source Notes






Backpack update: As time has gone on, I've found that many people have use for larger packs. The smallest size I now use is 30L (meaning, 30 liters capacity). This is a pack that is bigger than a day pack and not as big as a full-sized camping pack. I will also use packs up to full size camping packs if I can find them. Stronger people and people who are traveling appreciate them. Although I alwasy hope to get used packs, if they are not available, I currently buy them at Walmart or online at 30L packs should run around $20-25 and should be sturdy and subdued colors (gray, blue, etc.).

I don't use packs with external aluminum frames. They are just too bulky and no one wants them..

Ideally I find good, used backpacks at thrift stores (Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill Industries, etc.) and usually pay about $5 apiece, give or take a couple of bucks. Summer garage sales have been a good source for me. Often, if I show the seller the literature about our project which I carry in my car, they will donate their used packs to the project.

Washing older packs in washing machines can be problematic and sometimes they fall apart or can damage the washer. I've found the best way to clean dirty packs is to take them to a manual car wash and blast them with the soap sprayer and then the rinse sprayer. Then I just dry them outside or near a heater for a day.





Watch cap


These can also be found at used clothing stores and garage sales but lately I’ve been paying a little more and buying them in bulk from or other online sources.  Again, dark colors or they won’t wear them.

Ball cap


I find these used and often free everywhere. They are good to keep the sun off heads that are outside all the time. Keep to subdued colors without controversial logos.



I only give these out in winter. The best deal, by far, is to buy fleece material by the yard at fabric stores and cut them up with scissors. I get 4 nice long scarves from 1 yard. No need to hem or sew.  Stay with black or brown, dark colors which will not show dirt or stand out.



Hard to find the ideal winter gloves at affordable prices although I do find them at used clothing stores  and garage sales all year round and stock them to give out in the winter. Meanwhile, I always include a pair of cotton work gloves which cost about a dollar a pair (Dollar Tree store, sometimes)

Socks, large

2-3 pr.

Important. Get men’s size large so they fit everyone. I buy in bulk (8 or 12 in a pack) at Wal-mart or, Hanes brand. I have also seen them at other discount stores. If there’s an option, gray or black are better but white will do. Full height sox and as heavy as possible.

Sun Glasses


Our Dollar Tree store has them for $1 a pair. I consider these important for people who are outside a lot. Make sure you try them on to assure the glass is good. Surprisingly, different pairs from the same batch will have better or worse lenses. There should be no eye strain when you first look through them. Stay with simple frame designs that look good on men and women.




Emergency blanket


Otherwise known as Space Blankets. for about $2. Get the largest size you can afford.  Serve as rain protection and for warmth.

Hand warmer packets


Also at in bulk. I only give them out in winter.

Duct tape, small


I’ve found small rolls for $1 at my Dollar Tree store. They don’t take up too much room, good for everything from fixing a tent to binding a wound.

Safety pins


Buy in bulk ( and put 5 in small plastic bag for each pack. Get the LARGE size.

Paper and pen, Magic Marker

1 ea.

Also available at dollar stores but not too expensive at stationary stores (Office Depot, Office Max, Staples, etc.) if you buy in bulk or wait for sales.

Ear plugs

1 pr.

Buy large packages from pharmacies or and re-package in jewelers’ plastic bags. 1 pair per pack.

Playing Cards

1 pack

Dollar store item or I’ve had them donated by card player clubs. If used, make sure the pack is complete. I know this is frivolous but sometimes it's nice to have a moment of respite.




Microfiber washcloth


You can get them in packages everywhere from discount & dollar stores to auto supply stores.  Try Wal-mart

Tooth brush


Dollar stores or in bulk on, pharmacies, discount stores. These must be new and individually packaged so they know they are hygienic.

Tooth paste


Medium to large tube at pharmacies, discount & dollar stores.



Small “travelers” at Pharmacies, discount & dollar stores.

Soap bar


Many friends collect these from hotels they visit. I’ve had some large donations of this type. Also, pharmacies, discount & dollar stores.



Many friends collect these from hotels they visit. I’ve had some large donations of this type. Also, pharmacies, discount & Dollar stores.

Razor (disposable)


Buy in packages of 10 or 20 and put 3 in a plastic bag per pack. Supermarkets, pharmacies, Costco, Sam’s Club, in bulk from, etc.



I include one of each, light, medium and super in a small baggie.  The light might be good for a young girl.  These are sold in triple-pack boxes in supermarkets, discount stores, pharmacies.  Shop around for price.

Nail clippers


Best deal yet was a 72-pack at



Dollar Tree for $1 apiece or in bulk at

Hand sanitizer


These are packets I buy in bulk at

Toilet paper, sm.


Buy large package at any discount store. Make sure the rolls are small, to fit in the pack.

Laundry soap


The best deal I’ve found so far are small bottles of liquid soap of about 6 washes apiece, name brands like Tide and All, available at Dollar Tree, Target, grocery stores and Price varies but they are not too expensive.  Having enough for multiple washes is excellent.




Plastic spoons, forks

2 ea.

Buy a large box of each at grocery or discount stores and re-package in plastic bag.

Can opener


Now I buy the large, Army type at, in bulk. If you can't buy bulk, you will find them at dollar stores. Get the strongest one you can. I have found them for $1 at Dollar Tree.

Canned beans


All the following food items are purchased at the most reasonably priced super market in my area. I wait for sales when I can. I try to walk the line between quality and price and usually will pay a little more for something I think is good, say a better quality tuna,  power bar or cracker. In the end, it does not add up to very much difference.

Peanut butter, large


Canned chicken


Canned tuna


Vienna sausage


Apple sauce or fruit cups


Saltine crackers

2 pkg.

Peanut butter cookies

2 pkg.

Granola, Power bars


Juice box


Bottle water