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Gifts for Homeless Children

Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead her to become a homelessness activist. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.


Gift Suggestions for Children in Need

Almost all children like to get gifts, but some of them have few opportunities to even own something of their own. Poor children and particularly homeless ones miss out on many of the gifts and holidays other children enjoy.

The following is a list of things that would make excellent gifts for homeless children, whether for Christmas, any occasion, or just because you want to give. Please consider giving one or more of the following suggested items to your local shelter as gifts for needy little ones in your area whether it's near the holidays or not.

photo by Cynthia Berridge, SXC

photo by Cynthia Berridge, SXC

Three BasicTips for Selecting Appropriate Presents

  • Whatever you give as gifts to homeless children, keep in mind that they will have to carry or wear everything they own, sometimes for hours and hours each day. Keep the items small, light, and easy to wear or carry.
  • Avoid toys with small parts that could easily be lost, otherwise, it's likely the child will only have part of a toy in a very short time.
  • Avoid anything that looks or actually is expensive. Expensive-looking toys, electronics, clothes, or shoes can make a child a target for theft, vandalism, or harassment.

Winter Coats, Hats, Gloves, and Mittens

photo by Cindy Kalamajka, SXC

photo by Cindy Kalamajka, SXC

Warm winter clothing not only protects kids from the elements it also allows them to have fun while playing outside rather than feeling cold and miserable.

Winter Coats

Winter coats are often in short supply at charities as children quickly outgrow them and not enough people donate them. A fun winter coat makes an excellent gift. You can buy inexpensive but warm winter coats at thrift stores like GoodWill and Salvation Army, discount stores like Big Lots, and at big box stores like WalMart and Target.

Winter Hats

Warm knit hats in colors for boys or girls or in neutral tones are always welcome. Hats often get lost by children, homeless or not, and having more than one hat helps to keep hair clean. Cute styles and colors can make this a practical gift with a sense of fun.

Gloves and Mittens - Warming gifts

No matter the season, anyone who might be sleeping outdoors or in a car at some point would welcome a pair of gloves or mittens to help them stay warm. Stretchy, one-size-fits-most gloves are a good choice because they will fit a variety of sizes, continue to fit with growth, and, due to stretchiness, can be layered over another pair of gloves if necessary. Warm fuzzy mittens can be put over gloves on the coldest days to keep little hands warm, too. Right now, many dollar stores and discount stores are stocking the stretchy, one-size-fits-all type of gloves.

Stuffed Toys That Double as Something Else

Some stuffed toys can double as pillows, blankets, or pajama storage bags. Multipurpose stuffed toys are great because they serve multiple functions and take up the same space as a single function item. The popular "Zoobie" toys and similar knockoffs can serve as blanket, pillow, and toy all in one.

I've seen some really good and inexpensive variations on this theme at Big Lots, Target, and WalMart as well as at a locally based regional chain called Meijer.

photo by Jeff Prieb, SXC

photo by Jeff Prieb, SXC

Coloring Books and Crayons

This is one item for which I'm going to suggest you break the no small, easily lost parts rule. Homeless children can quickly learn to put the crayons right back into the box after each use. Even if they lose some of the crayons, even a single crayon can keep a kid engaged and entertained if he or she has something to color or draw on.

Crayons and coloring books can be found at most dollar stores and discount stores as well as at big box stores. I like to pick up a few boxes of crayons during back-to-school sales for later gift giving.

Pens and Pencils

Pens and pencils are very practical choices. They are small and easily carried. Pens or pencils on cords or lanyards make the best gifts of this type. The lanyard or cord can be hung around their neck like a necklace or attached to their clothing or a backpack to prevent loss. Pretty types are available for girls and more masculine designs are available for boys. However, plain pens and pencils also make nice little presents and brightly-colored ones will be appreciated by either gender.

They can often be found at dollar stores and discount stores but I've had the best luck snapping them up on closeout at big box stores right after the back-to-school sales.

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Photo by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC


Toys are the first things most people think of when it comes to holiday giving. When choosing toys as gifts for homeless children, be sure to choose sturdy, easily portable toys without small parts that can be all too easily lost.

Small stuffed animals, cars, dolls, and single piece logic puzzle toys are very popular and provide much-needed entertainment, comfort, and mental stimulation.

Use caution when buying dollar store stuffed toys because I've encountered some that were barely holding together or clearly in violation of safety standards. I make sure there are no parts that can come off and I tug on the limbs, ears, and eyes before giving them.

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski, SXC


Age appropriate books make thoughtful gifts for little ones. Avoid books with pop-up pictures as they will come apart much more quickly than regular books. Keep size in mind when choosing books to buy. As mentioned before, homeless children must often carry all of their possessions at once.

I keep an eye out for children's books at the dollar store and discount stores throughout the year.


Sturdy backpacks make some of the most useful presents. Over the years I've seen too many homeless children with nothing more than a plastic grocery bag to carry their meager belongings around. A backpack leaves hands free to do other things and makes carrying things around a lot less of a chore.

While older children would benefit from sturdier, camping type backpacks, cute backpacks work nicely for pre-teens because they are appropriately sized for them.


So many homeless children don't have pajamas. They have to sleep in their clothes, making it harder for them to keep clean and tidy. One-size-fits-most footed pajamas make wonderful gifts for them. Regular pajamas are good, too, and are much easier to find. There's something especially comforting about soft, cuddly sleepwear.

photo by Adam Ciesielski, SXC

photo by Adam Ciesielski, SXC

Tips for Giving

Probably the best way to give gifts to homeless children is to contact your local shelters or other charities that serve poor people and and let them handle distribution. You can also donate your children's outgrown clothing, shoes, and toys to your local shelter as well and they will be put to good use. Do not wrap toys or other items with gift paper.

If you do give presents directly, be sure to ask a parent if it's OK to do so first, just as you'd ask the parents of any homed child before giving him or her a gift.

Photo by Adam Ciesielski, SXC

Hygiene Products

There are lots of nice, inexpensive hygiene products made for kids. It's hard to stay clean and well-groomed when you don't have a home of your own. While very practical, hygiene products often also have a sense of fun that is often lacking in kids' lives. Children also like to have something of their own, even if it's just a toothbrush, comb or hairbrush. Grooming kits that come in their own little bag or case make ideal gifts for homeless children.

Many drugstores, dollar stores, and discount stores have inexpensive, fun, and well-made grooming and hygiene products.

Fleece Blankets and Fleece Blankets with Sleeves

Fleece blankets are light and easily carried. They also provide a great deal of insulation for their size and come in fun or whimsical prints. Fleece wearable blankets can be layered even over coats to help with staying warm while outside in cold weather or when sleeping in unheated or under-heated accommodations.

What Would You Give? Share Your Giving Ideas Here.

Rita on November 23, 2019:

Oh, that crayon idea. That took me right back to when I dreamed of the 64-color box that my family could never get. Of course I'll have to donate smaller boxes than that. How big can I go and still be practical for a homeless child?

RTalloni on October 16, 2018:

Thank you for putting this post together. Am hoping it will be shared many times over once again.

Nereida on November 11, 2017:

A very nice coat for homeless children would be a very good idea for this winter

Rose Jones on March 23, 2014:

These solutions are great! All of them are practical and fun too.

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on June 29, 2013:

@etchedingifts: It would be difficult to do because the gifts are usually donated to homeless shelters who then handle their distribution. It's also not practical to engrave toys or clothes although labels could be sewn on in some cases. I think little children would like having their names on their gifts but many who donate are at or near the poverty line themselves and could not afford to research the names of all the homeless children in their area and then purchase expensive engraved items. Multiple off-the-shelf items can be purchased for the cost of a single custom engraved item.

etchedingifts on June 29, 2013:

Really nice gift ideas. I would prefer personalised engraved gifts.

Vicki Green from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on December 30, 2012:

These are very helpful ideas for people who want to give gifts to homeless children either at Christmas time or at any time of the year.

GrammieOlivia on December 25, 2012:

Great suggestions and very practical and useful. I love the pj's and coats and mittens.

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on December 24, 2012:

Very thoughtful lens with great gift suggestions!

mecheshier on December 24, 2012:

These are all fabulous gifts! Thanks for sharing.Merry Christmas!

jirjimirji on December 24, 2012:

Amazing gift ideas, a well inspired read. Thank you for the tips!

Fay Favored from USA on December 23, 2012:

Many of the things you have suggested already. Thank you for writing this and giving helpful suggestions.

Glenda Motsavage from The Sunshine State on December 23, 2012:

Great inspirational lens - puts me in remembrance of just how blessed I am! Thank you for sharing - have bookmarked and will return. Congrats on the well-deserved Purple Star!

Matthew from Silicon Valley on December 23, 2012:

Great suggestions and truly a worthy cause! Blessed.

Angela F from Seattle, WA on December 23, 2012:

I have picked many of the gifts you've suggested in past years. Thoughtful lens...and *blessed*

Wes2012 on December 23, 2012:

Agreed this what it is all about!

Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on December 23, 2012:

This is a lens that truly captures the spirit of Christmas, well done.

laurenrich on December 23, 2012:

This is a very thoughtful lens. Homeless children need everything, but I prefer to give them something to wear. Thanks for sharing this great lens.

Donallphin on December 23, 2012:

Coats, hats, and small toys have worked well for us. Thankfully, our local shelter is doing a wonderful job distributing what's needed. Thanks for the great lens.

MiaMusement on December 23, 2012:

What a lovely sentiment and truly thoughtful ideas! I like that your choices are practical, but not strictly practical. They're fun, too!

Rosyel Sawali from Manila Philippines on December 23, 2012:

Great ideas here! ^_^ Merry Christmas!

anonymous on December 23, 2012:

This is an incredible list of gifts for homeless children.

Sunday-Vintage on December 23, 2012:

What a terrific lens! Every year my kids and I 'adopt' a family in need and buy them Christmas gifts like the ones you listed above. It's a great feeling to help others and I feel it teaches my children that there is more about Christmas then just receiving!

swapnal-sarang on December 23, 2012:

In auckland ,the salvation army kerps red bins or santa bins in libraries, schools,malls etc where we can place wrapped presents for the underpriviledged kids. I love the way the whole communitycontributes in making christmas wonderful for these kids

anonymous on December 23, 2012:

Kylyssa, this is an insightful lens. I (like most other people, I suspect) would have had no idea about what would make good gifts for homeless children. Creating this lens was a generous Christmas gift that you have given to homeless children everywhere. I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

anonymous on December 23, 2012:

We just took 200 books down to Barnados for distribution, wonderful cause that's been going for over 150 years. Squidliked, G+1 and pinned. Great lens.

SheSue LM on December 23, 2012:

Books make a great gift. It is amazing how many children have no books at home.

anonymous on December 23, 2012:

What excellence you have created once again and I like how you say you illustrate with Amazon but encourage local shopping and there certainly treasures to be found in our own closets. Congratulations on being featured in More Holiday Cheer From The SquidAngels!

imagelist lm on December 23, 2012:

This was helpful and gave me a lift... Thanks!

bbsoulful2 on December 22, 2012:

If you ever do an update to your lens, consider adding a module on the Pajama Program -- it would fit great with your lens. Blessed by a Giant Squid!

fitnessjunkie8 on June 13, 2012:

Wonderful lens! I am going to look up my local shelter today and by the end of this week, my goal is to take everything I can that we no longer need for donation.

Ruthi on April 09, 2012:

Many good ideas for gifts for homeless children, year round.

Rose Jones on March 12, 2012:

What a wonderful lens, but then again that is the quality that I have come to expect from you. :) Cool suggestion: don't give pop-up books because they come apart so easily. Angel Blessed!

juniperberry lm on February 04, 2012:

I really like some of these ideas - thanks!

benny77 on December 24, 2011:

Very thoughtful of you to put this out there!!! Thank you and Merry Christmas to everyone. Glad to see people are doing what they can for those less fortunate

ludyshubs on December 24, 2011:

Thank you for sharing your ideas. Less fortunate children should not be forgotten.

Tamara14 on December 20, 2011:

How very nice of you to be engaged with helping homeless children, especially during the holiday season when many of them can only dream of having some of the happiness homed children have. Thank you for your work! Blessed :)

Heather Bradford from Canada on December 20, 2011:

I love lenses that are thoughtful, helpful and raise awareness. Yours is excellent. Thank you.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on December 17, 2011:

Great ideas, and it's important to not forget those who have little this Christmas, especially if you have children who have far too many toys. My daughters usually end up sorting out some older toys and games to donate every year, but then get far too much again. Excellent topic for a lens and nicely done, blessed.

Tjoedhilde on December 11, 2011:

Great ideas and what a beautiful thought to put together this list. I love the idea of giving something educational like books to try to help their situation longterm.

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on December 08, 2011:

This is a really thoughtful guide. I can see how these would be gifts of comfort and care. *Blessed*

badmsm on December 07, 2011:

Fantastic, I love it! Liked & Blessed by a Squid Angel! :)

Jules Corriere from Jonesborough TN on December 06, 2011:

These are really great suggestions. Every year, my children and I put together bags of gifts for the homeless shelter. I appreciate your sensitivity, cautioning readers to "ask" the parents first. Keeping their honor intact is as important as keeping them warm. Thank you and Bravo on a beautiful lens.

Ann Hinds from So Cal on December 06, 2011:

Also blessed by a SquidAngel because you have tackled a topic that should never have to be done. Great ideas, great suggestions and the pillow pets that turn into blankets are really a good idea. Hats and mittens that have the loops attached keep them from getting lost. I also like the travel toothbrush sets. Kids love them.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on December 06, 2011:

Very well thought out. I really like the idea of the stuffed animals that double as a pillow or of giving a backpack to hold their possessions.Blessed by a squid angel.

squid-pinkchic18 on November 30, 2011:

This was super helpful! I would have never thought about nice gifts making them a target for theft or vandalism - so sad! This article helped a lot, thank you so much.

Debbie from England on November 30, 2011:

I'd give fun character hygiene sets full of useful, but attractive to the child, items. Blessed by a Squid Angel ;)

Nicole Pellegrini from New Jersey on November 27, 2011:

This is one of the most thoughtful and useful Christmas lenses I've seen on Squidoo. Blessed and I'll be adding to my list of Best Squidoo Christmas Lenses.

tinaanne on November 26, 2011:

I would like to give them a joyful christmas.

LiliLove on November 22, 2011:

Amazing lens. Thank you...

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on November 22, 2011:

A warm place to sleep for a night. Awesome lens. Happy Thanksgiving Kylyssa!

GrowWear on November 22, 2011:

Very thoughtful and heartwarming suggestions for gifts for the homeless children out there that need all of the love and comfort people can give them.

anonymous on November 20, 2011:

Honestly I would never have thought about what I could give to homeless kids....Because when I think homeless I see adults. But it's true, there is homeless kids too. I think I would give those 3 in 1 pets or coloring books with crayons.

Paul from Liverpool, England on November 20, 2011:

Some practical ideas for a problem nobody likes to admit exists: Angel Blessed for your thoughts.

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