As I reflected on the results of the SurvivalBlog poll that suggested topics for essays, one suggestion stood out: “Preparing give-away bags for wanderers.” (Good job, whoever made this suggestion.) I bring no special qualifications except for years of fine-tuning my go-bag and bartering inventory–and some time for reflection. After all, a barter list, a go-bag list, and give-away bag inventory would likely have some overlap in contents. Addressing this topic is a reminder that overstocking certain supplies is a good idea for all of us, regardless of which of these three reasons for which these items end up being used. So, let’s begin with my version of the give-away bag for a needy wanderer.
First, I would begin with a #10 can with a home-fashioned wire handle to hold everything, to carry water, and to cook with. Those who buy food in bulk probably have these in abundance. Whether you purchase baked beans from Sam’s Club, or bulk wheat, beans, rice, oats, and sugar from the nearest LDS pantry, you will likely have a large number of #10 cans. Stop throwing these cans away, poke a couple holes in the top to make a handle with some wire, and use this “pot” as the foundation of your assembly line. This sounds rustic, but this is what our ill-equipped Boy Scout troop used on our hikes….a very long time ago. Inexpensive, useful in multiple ways, simple, durable, and effective.
Next, roll up a contractor bag (from the hundreds you probably have stashed) and stick it in. It can be used as a shelter in wet weather, a ground barrier on a cold night, a satchel for scavenged treasures. In combination with a cup of hot water, it can retrieve someone from hypothermia. With it, one can cover a lot of needs; without it, a lot of needs may go unmet. For about $1.25 each, you can add a mylar reflective survival blanket. These little treasures are indispensable as an emergency shelter, or if someone is in shock. Small, cheap, highly effective; survival blankets will provide one of the best values in your kit.
Now, consider how you can most effectively fill the rest of this #10 can for a desperate person, perhaps someone who has nothing. They’re probably hungry. I suggest a pound of dried beans and a pound of dried oats–each in a separate plastic bag. Or, if you don’t store oats, ground flour is a good alternative–but we buy our oats in bulk and are perhaps more likely to have surplus oats. This amount of beans and either oats or flour together will sustain someone for 3-4 days, if they are frugal. They are light and provide nutrients, vitamins, calories, and protein. They take some effort to prepare, but two pounds of these items will go much farther than two pounds of protein bars. Less expensive, too.
Beans and oats aren’t worth much without water, and who can tell if the water they have is fit to drink? I suggest a 2-oz bottle of Betadine, which is also extremely useful in cleaning out wounds (more on that later). This could be expensive if you buy the Betadine from a pharmacy. But you can get a gallon from McKesson online for about $40, which will fill about 76 2-oz bottles. That’s about fifty-two cents each.
Beans or oats alone will be bland without some salt and sugar. I recommend about an eighth-cup of salt and a half-cup of sugar. You might throw in a water bottle if you find them on sale at Sam’s Club. It doesn’t just provide the water that you give them; it can carry water for a family on a hot day, or carry water to the cook from a nearby stream. Might could throw in a large spoon, too, so everyone can eat.
To heat water for oatmeal or cook beans, you need a fire. Better than a book of matches is a magnesium fire starter, which can start a fire in all kinds of weather. Magnesium sticks also last a lot longer than matches, and will still work after it gets wet. You can find a small one for about five dollars. But if this is too much to spend, just wrap a couple dozen stick matches in a baggie for about a hundredth of the cost of magnesium.
And, of course, you need to include a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool to strike with the magnesium. This need not be expensive. On eBay, you can bid on boxes full of Swiss Army knives, leathermen, and assorted multitools that have been confiscated by the TSA when people forget them in their luggage as they are hurrying to board a plane. (You can turn their unfortunate moment of forgetting they included a knife in their luggage into a moment of exultation for your needy wanderer.) Buy a big box and use them for barter, then put the others into your gifts-of-mercy and it will be regarded as more valuable than gold. If the beneficiary of your generosity already has a knife, just remove it from the kit and give it to the next person–or use it for barter. Having some kind of knife or multi-tool is essential, and this auction site is a great way to inexpensively procure them in bulk.
Next, spend a few quarters and go to your local thrift store and buy all the socks they have. They may not look like much to you, but I guarantee that they will feel like a million bucks to someone with cold, sore, wet feet. And if you buy your first aid supplies in bulk, pick up a case of athletic tape and stick a role in this kit; great to prevent blisters or dress wounds.
A person with the level of need that would probably receive such a kit may have to cuts and scrapes. If these are dealt with when they are small, they stay small. If they are neglected, they can become a major problem–even life-threatening. We buy boxes that contain 144 packets of triple antibiotics for about $12. If you do the same, throw a couple into your kit. A wound can be washed with betadine initially, then dressed with antibiotic ointment.
If you have an old sheet, it can be cut up into a triangle-shaped “bandage”. This could be used for a splint, a tourniquet, a dressing for a wound; or rinsed with water and placed over one’s head to keep going on a very hot day. An alternative to a triangular bandage would be a large bandana, which can be found online in bulk for about 75 cents each.
Next, an instruction sheet that matches whatever you put in your kit might be very useful. Once again: this item is cheap, easy, and of high value. Some possible things that could be put on such instructions could be: how to cook beans and oats, how to apply topical antibiotics, how to sanitize water with Betadine, how to build a fire using a magnesium strip and a multitool, 101 uses for a triangle bandage. You might even include how to get to someplace you want them to go–a stream, a bus station, or some further help; perhaps even a word of encouragement.
Consider what unique needs someone might have in your particular location for further inclusions into your kit. Do you have a lot of bugs? Perhaps mosquito netting would help. Is it hot? Maybe salt tablets might be the thing. Is it wet? Perhaps some pre-prepared dry tinder would help them build their fires. If it is cold, perhaps gloves or a knit skull-cap. Get extras of whatever you use.
Also consider what you have in abundance, or a service that you can easily provide. Perhaps it is easy for you to process meat into jerky. Maybe you grow a lot of something that can easily be shared. Perhaps you know about herbs or first aid, and offer something to them based on a quick assessment of their needs.
Whatever you do to help an ailing and desperate person find food, clothing, health, and shelter will be greatly appreciated. The assistance you offer may save a life, or offer comfort for a little while. But in all our efforts to help ourselves and others survive, all of us will eventually pass from this world. A little more time on this earth does not change that eventuality. There is one item that you can add to your kit to make the largest difference in how your gift recipient has peace amidst their deprivation, hope amidst despair, truth when all they see is deception, and joy in the face of sorrow: the Holy Bible.
After all, flour for bread is useful, but Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35) Water purifier will quench a weary traveler’s thirst, but “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give them will never be thirsty again. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13) A make-shift shelter may keep someone warm for a night or two, but do they know that God loves them, and has prepared a home for them in heaven, should they so desire? (John 14:1) Salt will flavor their food, but how is your recipient going to become the Salt of the World? (Matthew 5:13). In the Bible, the recipient of your gift will discover that if they seek forgiveness, declare that Jesus is Lord, and endeavor to follow Him, they will live an eternal life with Him. (Romans 10:9) So this Bible is by far the best gift that you can give a sojourner in need.
Now, with all the money that you’re spending on all your preps, and the other items mentioned here, you might not prioritize a Bible in your giveaway bag, but they’re not actually very expensive. You can order a box of 100 English Standard Version (ESV) New Testaments for 67 cents each. They even include free shipping. If you’re going to give something to someone to help save their life, adding a 67 cent item to your kit is a small price considering what it will give them. In the end, put anything you want in the kit; but make sure it contains a Bible.
Good luck in this noble project, should you endeavor to do it!