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4 min read

10 ways you can help the homeless

Effective Compassion

"Truly effective compassion means striving for human flourishing and seeking the conditions that make it possible." (Jennifer Marshall in her blog post, "It's Not Enough to Care about the Poor.")

Effective compassion doesn't happen in the head. Effective compassion has legs and hands and gets busy. 

We're intentionally using body imagery here because the Union Gospel Mission is part of the Body of Christ. We are an extension of you, and just as the arm or the eye or the ear is nothing by itself, so we are nothing without you.

Want to exercise effective compassion? Here are 10 ways you can help.church_sm

1)       Donate food.

Wil in a barrelUGM serves more than 900 meals per day for just $1.84 per meal thanks to the generous food donations we receive. In 2017, UGM served 312,593 meals.

In addition to feeding the guests at our shelters, UGM is the only dining room in Spokane providing free lunch and dinner to the public 7 days a week/365 days a year. This list shows the days and times when other organizations in the area are serving free meals.

When you give food, you are helping to feed the hungry. Here are a few of the items of which we are ALWAYS in need: coffee, creamer, protein (beans, canned meat, sliced cheese & deli meats), fresh produce, canned fruits and vegetables, salad dressing, condiments and soup. (Large #10 cans preferred.)

Because of our storage capacity and ability to pick-up and transport donations, UGM also serves as a warehouse for smaller non-profits in the area. If you or someone you know needs to access a food bank, check this directory of churches and neighborhood pantries.

 2)      Hold a drive.

Coffee Drive cdaAs you can imagine, there are some items of which we can never get enough. If you have a large group, you might want to add a little friendly competition: Who can build the highest tower of donated toilet paper or get the biggest variety of pasta shapes?

To focus your efforts on our top needs, we’ve created a calendar:

January: diapers and wet wipes
February: toiletries (razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant & hair care products)
March: paper products (toilet paper, tissues, napkins, paper towels & paper plates)
April: condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard & salad dressing)
May: socks
June: underwear & bras (L & XL sizes most needed)
July: pasta & pasta sauce
August: school supplies (check website for specifics)
September: cold & flu supplies (cough drops, vitamins, non-alcoholic OTC meds)
October: Fall Food Drive
November: winter coats
December: Christmas – gift cards (check website for specifics)

Call 509.535.8510 to coordinate your drive with us!

 3)      Volunteer.

CS clinic-1We need all kinds of volunteers. You might be thinking, “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” but wait…Whatever it is that you do on a daily basis, we could probably use those very skills.  We need people who are good listeners and want to build relationships with our guests. We need mentors. We need people who like to rock babies. We need fitness instructors and chefs. We need administrative assistants and financial planners. We need lawyers, receptionists, doctors, teachers, nurses and people to sort donations. We need carpenters and mechanics. We need you.

Volunteers enrich our ministry in immeasurable ways. For starters, an hour of volunteer labor is estimated to be worth $24.69 (Independent Sector). With over 500 high-impact volunteers serving throughout the ministry, imagine the dollars saved by volunteers. Beyond that, each volunteer brings a unique perspective and adds to the most important message we are trying to communicate: Christ and His church care about those who are hurting!

Call 509-535-8510 in Spokane or 208-665-4673 in Coeur d'Alene to sign up for a volunteer orientation. 


  4)      Do a service project.


We’d love to put your group or civic organization to work. Projects vary based on the season and needs at the time, but here are a few ways that groups have helped in the past.

  •          Washing vehicles
  •          Raking leaves and pine needles/distributing bark
  •          Maintenance of the UGM Camp grounds
  •          Organizing kids’ birthday parties
  •          Leading craft or sewing projects
  •          Manicures, pedicures and makeovers

Call 509-535-8510 in Spokane or 208-665-4673 in Coeur d'Alene if you're interested in planning a service project for your group.

 5)      Invite a speaker.

Jackie speaking at church

We’re totally excited about what God is doing at UGM, and we’d love to share our excitement with your church, small group, leadership team, civic organization or just a gathering of friends and family. We can bring a video testimony or, depending on schedules, we might be able to bring someone who has been impacted by the ministry.

The more people who understand homelessness and how to address its underlying causes, the better position our community is in to make a significant impact. 

Contact Wil Wilhelm to schedule a speaker. 

 6)      Take a tour.

taking a tour

If you’ve never been to one of our shelters, you’re in for a surprise. We’re not the tired, old soup kitchen of yesterday. We’d love to give you a behind-the-scenes look, see what everyday life looks like inside UGM, and give you the opportunity to meet the people who come through our doors. It’s one of the first steps in breaking down the barriers that exist between the haves and the have-nots. Call 509-535-8510 in Spokane or 208-665-4673 in Coeur d'Alene  to schedule a tour. 

 7)      Serve a meal.

meal servers 2 small

Volunteers who have done this consistently say two things: 1) You get more than you give; and 2) You will be amazed by the gratitude people demonstrate for something as simple as a tray of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Call 509-535-8510 in Spokane or 208-665-4673 in Coeur d'Alene for more information about serving meals.

 8)      Hand out service cards.

We are all familiar with the ambiguous feelings aroused by panhandlers. We want to do something, but what? The Mission has service information cards that list all of our free services (meals, clothing, showers, medical and legal clinics) and time schedules. Pick up a supply or download and print a pdf; package them with a granola bar and a bus pass; and you’ll be ready to offer real help to the next homeless person you meet.



9)      Give financially.

UGM is a nonprofit operating under the IRS designation 501(c)3. All donations are tax deductible. We do not receive any government funding, and 88% of all revenue goes toward services for the poor and homeless.

  •          $12.94 = a night’s shelter
  •          $36.80 = 20 meals
  •          $59.42 = one day of recovery for a mom and her child

adult-blur-church-130905210)  Make your church a welcoming place.

You know the place in Psalm 51 where David says, “For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me”? Most of our guests can relate all too well. So if your church appears to be a place for cool people who have their act together, people struggling under the weight of past mistakes might not feel welcome. Be a church where people can come as they are, not just externally but internally, as well.


For more ideas on how to help someone still living on the street, click below.

How to Help a Pandhandler. Click here to download our free tip-sheet. >



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