DIY Project: Homeless Backpack Care Kit

We’ve all seen them in our hometown…the homeless.

Perhaps they’ve been forced from their homes because of a loss of employment due to an economic downturn or a long illness. Perhaps they are one of the many disabled Veterans forced to the streets these days. Like most of you, I’ve given money or food wishing there was more I could do.

Now I have a way to help—The Homeless Backpack Care Kit.

BackpackI certainly don’t claim to be the brainchild of this project. It all started with a blog post by Kylyssa Shay: What to Buy if You are Homeless. You see, Kylyssa was homeless for a year when she was younger. But she had a game plan, and the moment some good fortune befell her, she was able to capitalize on it and get off the streets—for good. Her blog talks about how to strategize and what to do to help yourself stop being homeless. Inspirational stuff. I suggest you read it.

But also on the blog post, Kylyssa shared a video made by an anonymous couple in Tacoma, Washington who were also inspired by Kylyssa’s post and decided to start making Homeless Care Backpacks to hand out in their town. They started with five that first year. Now they make up to twenty backpacks a year. Here was something I could do and so could you!

How to Make a Homeless Backpack Care Kit for Under $25:

Step 1: The Backpack

Empty BackpackFirst I purchase some used backpacks from the Thrift Stores. You can find good ones for between $1-5. This one in the photo was purchased for $4. It doesn’t matter what color it is, or what decoration is on it. In fact, if it looks too good it might get stolen. Make sure all the zippers work and it’s fully functional. I like using backpacks because the person can wear the pack at all times (even to sleep) so it’s less likely to get taken from them. Also it protects what’s inside from the elements as most packs are pretty waterproof. I also like the fact they usually have separate compartments for storage.

Step 2: Warmth

items for warmth, scarf, gloves and hatI make sure to purchase some items that will help the person stay warm. Even here in southern California it gets cold at night, especially in the winter. I woke up this morning to 41 degrees! For these items you could check out the Thrift Stores, but I’ve had good luck at the Dollar Stores. Look for warm scarves, knit beanies and gloves. Extra pairs of socks are also a great item to include. Having a clean and dry pair of socks can go a long way to keeping warm. I make the backpacks gender specific, so I choose items accordingly. I’ve also found rain ponchos in a little plastic pouch that can help a person stay dry, which is just as important for warmth. You could also include a mylar space blanket or a plastic sheet. Every item in this photo was purchased for $1 each. I purchase the bandannas in packages of six and keep them on hand to include in the backpacks. Large bandannas are extremely versatile and can used for everything from a headscarf to an arm sling, or to filter water.

Step 3: Personal Hygiene

Personal Hygiene items, toothpaste, comb, deodorant, soapThis is something we take for granted everyday of our lives. Not only is this a health issue, good personal hygiene also allows us to maintain our dignity. These simple items are difficult for a homeless person to purchase and maintain. And if they are trying to hold a job while on the street, it’s imperative! I go for the basics; toothbrush and paste, comb, deodorant, razor and toilet paper. Again, I make the packs gender specific so I can address the different needs of a woman, such as a zip-lock bag of tampons. One of the most important items to provide is bar soap because it can also be used to wash out clothes and hair, as well as bodies. I provide a washcloth and zip lock bag with the soap. I even found the nail clippers, emery board and tweezers package for $1. In fact, all of these items were purchased for $1—or less. I purchased a package of 20 combs for a dollar. And the facial tissue packs come in a package of 8 for a dollar. So they are only pennies apiece, and I have inventory for the next round of backpacks.

Step 4: Food & Water

Food items for the homelessOf course we know how difficult it is for the homeless to get a nutritional meal and enough water to survive. This is why it’s important to donate to churches or foundations that supply hot meals to the hungry and homeless. But I like to add a few food items to the pack to help the cause. Of course I always include a bottle of water. I purchase cases of water for pennies a bottle. I also occasionally find deals on the emergency water packs that are great for long-term storage. For food it’s important to make sure you are including items that don’t need can openers, don’t need to be cooked, or even heated, in order to eat them. I choose items that are good for long storage without refrigeration. One of my favorite items to include is the Brunswick Tuna or Chicken Salad. Each box contains a tin of premade chicken or tuna salad and a package of crackers, along with a little plastic spoon. It’s a little meal in a box and can be purchased for $1 at the Dollar Store (they are more expensive in the grocery stores). I also always supply peanut butter. It’s high in protein and keeps well. I like the Jif To Go boxes, which contain three little sealed tubs of peanut butter. Again, I can purchase many of these individual items for less than a dollar because they come in a pack of multiple items. The Applesauce was four tubs for a dollar and the peanuts were 5 packages for a dollar.

This is only a place to start. There are so many other things you might decide to include, such as First Aid items, a miniature sewing kit, clothes and underclothes, a watch and food vouchers.

Everything in this backpack was purchased for less than $20

The backpack was $4. So I created this backpack for under $25. This is a project that most of us can afford to undertake. And look at the good we can do with this. Even if someone elects to trade or sell the pack to another person…who’s to say, it may be just what the new owner needs to get back on his/her feet again.

My hope is that one of these Homeless Backpack Care Kits will give a homeless person hope, and perhaps serve as a springboard for finding a way to get off the streets and live the life they choose.

I hope this video will inspire you to help those less fortunate as well.

Do you like this idea of the Homeless Backpack Care Kit?


  1. Juanita Rice

    I saw this idea a few days ago and plan to do at least one pack…maybe several smaller fanny pack types. It’s a great idea…especially the part about not having the pack look new. It’s too bad when the homeless have to purposely look homeless for fear of having their things stolen.

    • indy

      Juanita, I think it’s wonderful that you plan to do this…and the fanny packs are a great idea! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Laura Taylor

    Brilliant! I love that you’ve shared a way of helping those in need. My compliments! Merry Christmas! 🙂 LT

    • indy

      Thank you,Laura! I’m excited that I’ve finally found something that I can do beyond handing out money…something that might help someone take a step toward getting off the streets. And I wish you a Merry Christmas as well! And best wishes for the New Year!

  3. Lisa

    This is such a great article! ☺ (Kudos also to the reader who suggested fanny packs as well!) I love how this is a way even someone on a tight budget can provide a little help to someone in need! I am looking forward to making my first pack and, as I am able, to make many, many more! ☺ Thank you so much for sharing this!!

    • indy

      You are most welcome, Lisa! And I’m so grateful for the people who thought of this first. I finally feel that I can help make a difference. And I’m glad you and I “met” on Twitter with this mutual interest! Best Wishes! Please keep in touch and let me know how you progress with this project – I’d love to hear ~


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