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Volunteering and Donating to Homeless Shelters

Group of volunteers at homeless shelter.


When you see a person experiencing homelessness, it's normal to feel a strong urge to reach out and help — yet also a sense of powerlessness in the face of such deep, enduring hardship.  


Indeed, homelessness is a systemic issue, tied to factors like affordable housing, healthcare, job opportunities, and social support systems — huge problems that no single person can solve. 


But that doesn’t mean we can’t mean that you can’t make a positive impact.  


In fact, there are so many ways that people just like you can make a huge difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness — by volunteering or donating to homeless shelters


Shelters do more than just offer a bed for the night. They provide meals, security, and a space where individuals can feel safe. They offer services like counseling, job training, and healthcare, helping people find their feet again.  


But to keep doing this crucial work, shelters rely on donations and volunteers like you


Every meal served, every resume polished, every dollar donated, adds up. And in this post, we’ll offer tips on making your contribution make the biggest difference it can. 


At ShiftLink, we know your time matters. We know your work matters. Interrupting your focus on caring for others to perform the time-consuming task of filling shifts in a pinch is frustrating at best. ShiftLink is not a band-aid fix. It is a response to your deepest need — to spend more time on what truly matters. We have created a software that will ease every pain point related to shift scheduling. Request a demo today or send us an email to learn more.   



Volunteering with Homeless Shelters 

Thinking about volunteering? Awesome! Volunteering is a fantastic way to get involved and make a direct impact.  


And guess what? There are so many ways to do it, based on what you're good at or what you enjoy the most. 


  • Working Behind-the-Scenes: Shelters always need an extra pair of hands. Whether it's organizing donations, helping in the kitchen, or keeping the place tidy, your help can keep things running smoothly. 

  • Offer Your Professional Skills: Got a special skill? Shelters often need various services, from haircuts to healthcare, bookkeeping to building maintenance. Your professional expertise can provide invaluable support to both the shelters and the individuals they serve. 

  • Share Your Hobbies: Love cooking, playing an instrument, or crafting? Sharing your hobby can bring joy and a sense of normalcy to those staying in shelters. It's a fun way to engage and connect on a personal level. 


At the end of the day, volunteering is about the heart-to-heart connections you make, the smiles you share, and the hope you bring. More than anything, it’s about showing up, being present, and letting people know they're not alone.  


Plus, the act of volunteering can open your eyes to new perspectives and deepen your understanding of the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness. 


Tips for Effective Volunteering 


Ready to dive into volunteering? Here are some friendly tips to make your experience as impactful and rewarding as possible. 


  • Patience is Key: Shelters are often bustling places with limited resources. Staff may be juggling a dozen tasks at once. If you reach out and they don't respond to you immediately, don't worry. They value your offer to help and will get back to you as soon as they can. 

  • Training Matters: If the shelter offers training sessions, jump on them. They're there to help you understand how the shelter operates and how you can best contribute. Plus, you'll feel more confident and prepared. 

  • Respect Diversity: Shelters are melting pots of cultures, backgrounds, and stories. Approach everyone with respect and an open heart. Understanding and valuing diversity only makes your volunteering more impactful. 

  • Commit Realistically: Only bite off what you can chew. It's better to commit a few hours a week and stick to it than to overpromise and underdeliver. Consistency is gold in the world of volunteering. 

  • Be Flexible: Shelters' needs can change in a heartbeat. One day they might need help in the kitchen, the next day, it could be sorting donations. Staying flexible means you're always ready to lend a hand where it's most needed. 

  • Year-Round Heroes Wanted: While the holidays are a popular time to volunteer, shelters need help every day of the year. Becoming a regular volunteer means you're a steady rock in a sea of constant change. 


Volunteering is more than just giving your time. You become part of a community, learning from others and making a tangible difference. The warmth and understanding you bring to the table are just as important as the tasks you do. 



Donating to Homeless Shelters 

Now, let's talk about donating.  


Woman putting clothes into donation box.


When you donate to a homeless shelter, you're providing essential support that has both immediate and long-lasting impacts. There are so many ways to help, and each type of donation is valuable in its own way. 


  • Monetary Contributions: Money is like a Swiss Army knife for shelters. It's flexible and can be used where it's needed most. From paying bills to buying specific supplies, your cash donations keep the shelter running smoothly. 

  • Clothing: Ever felt the confidence that comes with wearing a good outfit? That's what you give when you donate clothes. Clean, well-fitting clothing can make a huge difference, not just for warmth, but for self-esteem and job interviews. 

  • Toiletries: Items like toothbrushes, shampoo, and feminine hygiene products might seem small, but they're big in terms of dignity and basic hygiene. These are everyday essentials that many of us take for granted. 

  • Food: Donating food, especially non-perishables like canned goods or peanut butter, helps feed those in need. It’s a basic necessity that's vital for survival and health. 

  • Household Goods: Things like kitchen utensils or toys can turn a shelter into a more home-like environment. It's about making the space comfortable and functional for those who are staying there. 

  • Books and Computers: These are tools for learning and staying connected with the world. A donated book or computer can be a window to education and opportunity. 

  • Gift Cards: These are super practical. They allow individuals to buy what they need when they need it, like a warm drink on a cold day or gas to get to a job interview. 


Each type of donation has its own unique impact, addressing immediate needs or paving the way for long-term recovery.  


What Not to Donate to a Homeless Shelter 


When we decide to donate, it's with the best intentions. But sometimes, what we think might be helpful can actually be a bit of a pickle for shelters. Here's the lowdown on what usually doesn't work. 

  • Perishable Food: Shelters love donations, but fresh fruits and homemade meals can go bad quickly and aren't easy to store. It's tough, but for safety and health reasons, they usually have to say no to these. 

  • Leftovers: You might hate to waste food, but shelters often can't accept leftovers for the same reasons as perishable foods. It's hard to know how it was made or how long it's been sitting out. 

  • Bulky Furniture: Your old couch might still have life in it, but shelters often don't have the space to keep big items. Instead, a local thrift store might be the way to go. It helps others and often supports good causes at the same time. 


It's always a good idea to have a quick chat with your local shelter. They'll let you know what they need right now and what they just can't take. That way, your generosity really hits the mark. 


Tips for Effective Donating 

Donating is an awesome way to help out, but doing it effectively takes a little bit of homework and some smart thinking. Here are some tips to make your donations count! 


  • Check with the Shelter First: Shelters know best what they need. A quick call can save you time and make sure your donation is spot on. They might be short on socks one week and need shampoo the next. Getting the lowdown means your help is right where it's needed. 

  • Unrestricted Funds are Gold: It might feel nice to donate to a specific cause, but unrestricted funds give shelters the freedom to use your donation where it's needed most, whether that's fixing a leaky roof or buying fresh fruit. 

  • Quality Matters: If you're donating goods, make sure they're in good shape. A worn-out jacket or a broken toaster can be more of a burden than a help, costing the shelter time and resources to sort and dispose of. 

  • Use Tools Like Amazon Wish Lists: Many shelters have Wish Lists set up, making it super easy for you to buy and send what they really need directly to their door. It's efficient and ensures your donation is exactly what's needed. 

  • Keep Receipts for Monetary Donations: If you're donating cash and you want to claim it on your taxes, make sure to get an official receipt from the shelter. Not only does it help you come tax time, but it also keeps everything transparent and above board. 


These tips ensure your generosity goes a long way, truly making a difference in the lives of those in need. 



Making a Positive Impact 

We started this conversation by acknowledging how huge the issue of homelessness feels. But by now, we hope you see that your individual actions — yes, yours — hold incredible power.


Woman handing unhoused person plate of food.


Each hour you volunteer, each item you donate, each bit of advocacy you engage in, it all adds up to something truly significant. 


So, think about what you can offer. Maybe it's a couple of hours a week, a gently used coat, or a skill you have that could benefit a shelter. Whatever it is, know that it matters. 


Together, our collective efforts can keep the doors of shelters open, offer warmth and safety to those in need, and take steps toward a future where everyone has a place to call home. 


Your involvement, your care, it does make a difference. 


At ShiftLink, we know your time matters. We know your work matters. Interrupting your focus on caring for others to perform the time-consuming task of filling shifts in a pinch is frustrating at best. ShiftLink is not a band-aid fix. It is a response to your deepest need — to spend more time on what truly matters. We have created a software that will ease every pain point related to shift scheduling. Request a demo today or send us an email to learn more.   




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