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What to Donate to a Homeless Shelter

Updated on February 28, 2013

Why Donate?

Homelessness is truly a pandemic, both in developed and developing nations. Homelessness affects millions of people, and many homeless people stay in shelters. Whether they are emergency shelters, youth shelters, or violence against women shelters, most of these people have little or nothing when they arrive, and rely on what the shelter provides to them.

I work in a homeless shelter here in Canada, and most of this page is based on my own experiences.

Donating to your local homeless shelter will make a difference, I promise you that. While donations of almost anything are accepted and welcome, there are certain things that are more urgent than others. Please consider this list a general start, and if you have any specific questions, just call up your local shelter and ask!

"He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity and enjoying life's pleasures is like a blacksmith's bellows: he breathes but does not live." ~Indian Proverb

What Is Needed Most?

Some of the items on this list might surprise you, while others might be extremely obvious. Trust me when I say that donations of any kind are always appreciated.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. Towels & Face Cloths

    Bath towels and face cloths are something used daily by the clients. If a shelter has 100 people, you likely need anywhere from 50-100 towels to serve that group.

  2. Hygiene Supplies

    Toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, Q-tips, feminine hygiene supplies, etc are always needed. While full bottles and tubes are always welcome, the travel or hotel sizes are perfect! Next time you're at a hotel, take the travel sized bottles from your room. After a few trips, you will have plenty to donate to your local shelter.

  3. Food & Water

    Depending on the shelter, there may be meals served. Be sure to check with your local shelter before bringing in a donation of food. While non-perishables (canned and dried foods) last forever, non-perishables are important too! Did your company just have a party, and you have a platter or two of food left? You might be able to bring that to a shelter! Lensmaster poutine reminded me that bottled water is also incredibly important. Access to clean drinking water can sometimes be difficult for homeless people, so bottled water is always welcomed!

  4. Dishes & Cutlery

    Again, if food is being served, dinnerware is likely needed. Old sets of dishes in your basement? Donate them to the shelter. If they aren't being used at the shelter itself, they might be kept to give to people leaving the shelter and moving to their own homes.

  5. Office Supplies

    This one is something people don't think about. Shelters are often financed through monetary donations, and all shelters have some sort of administrative aspect. Offices always need pens, pencils, scissors, printer paper, paperclips, etc. Writing paper, envelopes and stamps are another item that could be used, particularly by clients looking to connect with loved ones. Journals and notebooks are also popular with clients!

  6. Money

    This one is obvious! Monetary donations are always used to serve the clients. Maybe it's being used to fund an outing, or purchase new beds and mattresses. Whatever amount you donate will be appreciated!

  7. Sheets & Blankets

    Donations of sheets and blankets are key to allowing people to sleep comfortably. Any sized of blankets and sheets will likely be accepted, but keep in mind that most shelter beds are singles. While blanket size doesn't really matter, sheet size might!

  8. First Aid Supplies

    Again, something that has to be paid for by the organization. Things like Band-Aids, tensor bandages, Polysporin or antibiotic cream can be used in droves sometimes, and get expensive over time. Some shelters will also take over-the-counter medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, foot fungus creams, lice shampoos), so consider these too.

  9. Clothing & Shoes

    Gently used clothing is always needed, especially shoes and socks. A lot of homeless people are out on the streets, sometimes for days at a time, and dry shoes and socks are so important.

  10. Electronics

    Some shelters have 'computer labs' or lounge areas, and often the money to purchase equipment is lacking. Did you just buy a new computer and you have no idea what you're going to do with your old one? Think about dropping it off at the nearest shelter!

  11. Books

    Lounges and quiet spaces in shelters are made so much more welcoming to clients if there is reading material. Consider adding to their libraries.

  12. Children's Toys

    Some shelters cater to families with children, and often women who are victims of violence must bring their children with them to the shelter. Please consider donations of children's toys, for example, stuffed animals, colouring books, crayons, children's books, etc. Thanks to ---Chazz for the suggestion!

  13. Small or Large Appliances

    Things like toasters or kettles can often be used at a shelter. Larger appliances like fridges, washers or dryers might also be needed. Check with your local shelter before dropping off something like this, though! Again, thank you to ---Chazz for the suggestion!

  14. Bus or Subway Fare

    Thank you to poutine for this one! Bus/Subway fare (tickets, passes, etc) are always needed. Most homeless people do not have vehicles, and therefore have to rely on public transportation to go anywhere.

  15. Your Time

    Homeless shelters almost always rely on volunteers to keep afloat. Donating your time can not only assist them, but be a personally rewarding experience. Contact the nearest shelter and considering volunteering for an hour or two a week.

Don't Forget

If you're not sure what your local shelter needs, just give them a call and ask!

Quick Question

Do you donate to your local homeless shelter?

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Did I Miss Something? - Let me know if there is something I've missed, or just general comments!

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    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • safereview profile image


      6 years ago from Kansas City

      We donate a lot (almost all) of our no longer used or surplus items to local shelters or Goodwill. I've even used to donate furniture and such. While it is not the reason "why" people should donate, reminding them that they can get a tax deduction for their charitable donations may get more people to do it. Great lens, well done.

    • PearlHowie profile image


      6 years ago

      What a great lens - I had been thinking of having a clear out and never really thought how useful sheets and towels could be!

    • dolphinstar lm profile image

      dolphinstar lm 

      6 years ago

      Great your focusing on the homeless who are a forgotten group of people. There are food companies who collect food safely from business like restaurants and then donate it to the homeless. You could mention them as well

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This lens is very helpful. Its nice to know you made a lens for those who want to help homeless people.

    • deanna6812 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @CelticLadies: I will certainly look into changing it to be in that format! Thanks for reading, and thanks for the suggestion.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      very nice lens, thanks for sharing

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Wonderful lens. I'm sending your link to everyone on my email list.

      This is an important lens.

      You're a wonderfully compassionate person.

      Thank you for sharing this urgently needed information.

      It brings to mind a bumper sticker I saw, "Think global, Act local"

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A friend who volunteers at a woman's shelter suggested collecting and donating the complimentary hotel amenities, which of course I now do. Sometimes I giggle to myself as I clear out all the soaps & shampoos on day one so housekeeping will give me a new set for days 2,3,4, etc. They just think I'm a kleptomaniac, but I'm doing it for 'the girls' =) My friend said the local laws state that each resident of the shelter has to have their own toiletries, so large bottles won't do. The shelter wants the individual bottles, like those I collect from the hotel.

      Sometimes our laws are just craziness!

    • JK Sterling profile image

      Jim Sterling 

      6 years ago from Franklin, Tennessee

      This is a wonderful lens, very helpful. Thank you.

    • TransplantedSoul profile image


      6 years ago

      Becoming homeless is somehting that can happen to anybody. Helping out while you can is a great cause. Thank you for the good list of ideas.

    • CelticLadies profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for posting that list how thoughtful of you. I wished it was in the recipe module format so I could just click print and print it out. I know I can do a copy/paste but the recipe module or perhaps another one of squidoo modules that has instant print capability would be great! Have to say you have inspired me at this time of year to give more and going to get started on that and call the local shelter in the morning! Thanks for caring!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      that's so sad!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very nice and thoughtful lens. Love it. Breaks my heart to see someone that is homeless. Thank you .

    • tea lady 2 profile image


      6 years ago from Midwest, USA

      Thank you. I have been packing a box to give away, but was unsure what to put in it. This list is very helpful.

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for helping to raise our awareness of something we might be able to do.

      Congratulations on making the front page.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      This should make it easier for people who want to help, but didn't know how.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for helping to make a difference to those in need. I've spent time in homeless shelters as a volunteer and as a client; the view isn't pretty from either side. Every little bit we can do to help really does make a difference in the lives of others.

    • diannejones lm profile image

      diannejones lm 

      6 years ago

      Nice lens. I do a lot of knitting for homeless hats, scarves, gloves, blankets tec.

    • Msqdoo profile image


      6 years ago

      Nice info.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I've volunteered in a homeless shelter before and I can say with ease they don't have enough supplies most of the time. They need clean clothes and toothbrushes and toothpaste since a lot of the guys don't stay in the shelters for a long time. Blankets are important too if they're staying outside.

    • queenofduvetcover profile image


      6 years ago

      Really nice lens =)

    • NatureLuver profile image


      6 years ago

      Nicely done.

    • Northwestphotos profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you for this important information.

    • BuddyBink profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens especially at this time of year when the need is even greater. Thank you.

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 

      6 years ago

      Many of us tend to throw or store stuff away just because we don't need them anymore. Having more things than we need, is the norm. But if we could all give whatever we don't need to those who do, the world will be a better place.

    • Beadsnresin profile image


      6 years ago

      Really good lens, thanks!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Useful information. Thanks for sharing.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      6 years ago from USA

      We don't think about all the things it takes to run a missions home. I tell my congregation whatever your house needs, so does God's. Shelters are a part of God's work that is very much overlooked. Thank you for providing a list of needs we can give.

    • TheFalconPress profile image

      The Falcon Press 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Very helpful list. I've mostly donated clothes and blankets. Thanks for reminding me about towels and washcloths!

    • jadehorseshoe profile image


      6 years ago

      An Excellent Primer On This Important Issue.

    • MJsConsignments profile image


      6 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      This is a very informative lens. Because of my new part time job with a church that sponsors a food pantry, I've come into a bit more contact with the homeless. They need so much. What we truly need and will never have is enough shelter space. At least, by donating these items we can make life a bit more livable for those that are able to stay in a shelter.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Coming from smalltown, USA-we don't always realize the magnitude of the homeless situation. This lens is enlightening.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Outstanding job! I have a favorite local shelter that I donate to, and it's like you were referring to their 'wish list'. Thanks for making this very important page! Blessed by a Squid Angel!

    • Craftymarie profile image


      6 years ago

      what a truly helpful and informative lens. Well done on the work you've put into this to educate other people. I donate lots of things to various charities but never thought about a homeless shelter - now I know what to supply. Thank you

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 

      7 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      I honor your work in the shelter so much. I've worked with the homeless and previously homeless in Asheville, NC, and in Chicago, IL. We often think of men as the homeless set, but I met so many women (and children) it was heartbreaking. One of the things they spoke to me about was not having bras and underwear. Ladies Underwear. Children's underwear. Donations of underwear often came to the shelters and other centers set up to help the homeless, but they were almost always men's boxer shorts and briefs.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I "Digg" this excellent lens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I "Digg" this excellent lens.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      Thanks for mentioning me.

      I just twitted this excellent lens.

    • deanna6812 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @poutine: Those are both excellent suggestions, which I will be adding (and crediting you, of course!)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      How about bottle water and bus fares?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice lens. Short and to the point (I get lost in some of the long lenses). Great information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Useful information. I have donated to them a few times, and should do it more. Thanks for doing this lens.

    • hysongdesigns profile image


      7 years ago

      very good information; I think homeless shelters and soup kitchens are very important to keeping people afloat until they can get on their feet.

    • chezchazz profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Great lens. I also know of at least 2 homeless shelters that will gladly accept older working appliances such as washers and dryers. And don't forget that there are also many children and teens who are homeless, so a donation of small toys may also be greatly appreciated.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great job!! This is an important topic and it's nice that you took time to write about it. Thank you!

    • GonnaFly profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for educating us with this very helpful lens.

    • InquisitiveOne LM profile image

      InquisitiveOne LM 

      7 years ago

      What a helpful lens for people who want to do something and aren't sure where to start. So many peope have things laying around that could benefit others. Of course, I just read your Kindness lens and am a bit in a puddle of mush....may it stay that way!

    • Chris-H LM profile image

      Chris-H LM 

      7 years ago


      Where there is love in this world, it is given by people like you. Selfless acts of compassion that recognize the dignity and humanity of others cost so little of the giver and yet mean so much to the one receiving.

      Bless you for showing kindness and compassion toward others.

      And thank you for this list. It gives us all a place to start.

    • TheBonchy profile image


      7 years ago from Australia

      This is wonderful!

      Most of us are encouraged to donate to charity but I think people feel a bit fuddled if they're new to it. Knowing exactly how to help makes it much easier.

    • deanna6812 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @Paul Ward: Thank you, kindly!

    • Paul Ward profile image


      7 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Excellent straightforward lens on a terrible problem: Angel Blessed

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 

      7 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      My daughter works with homeless people in London and I have seen the homelessness problem grow exponentially here in Britain since the 1980s. This is a really worthwhile subject and something that people need to know about and understand - nobody wants to be homeless.

    • deanna6812 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @SusannaDuffy: Very well said. Thank you for the positive comment about the lens!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      What a terrible world we live in, that there are people homeless and hungry while others have obscene riches. This is an excellent resource for what to give to a shelter for the homeless


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