I’ve just discovered a whole catalog of things that will be great for helping the homeless. I came across it when I was trying not to laugh at the preppers who didn’t have a can opener.
In case you missed it, earlier this week a Twitter thread went viral about some libertarian preppers– that is, people who are convinced the collapse of civilization is immanent, that it will be brought about by the tyranny of the milquetoast Democratic party, and that they personally can survive such a cataclysm by stockpiling guns, ammunition, canned food, drinking water and the like so they can camp out and defend themselves indefinitely when it happens. This particular family of preppers drilled with their guns on the weekends and had a CB license for when the cell phone towers went down. But they had naively assumed they’d somehow have electricity or at least gas during the time of tribulation, and were blindsided when the utilities went out in their home state of Texas. Even their fire pit outdoors was gas-powered. They apparently didn’t think to put the food from their fridge in the garage to stay cold after the fridge stopped working, a trick Midwesterners know well but Texans apparently haven’t heard of. Next thing they knew, the perishable food had spoiled. They were forced to break into their prepper stockpile of cans and eat them cold. That was when they realized that their only can opener was electric. They had automatic weapons but no mechanical can opener.
There is nothing funny about the infrastructure and climate change nightmare playing out in Texas right now. The citizens of Texas, on the whole, aren’t really responsible for this. They deserve our compassion and help. And there’s nothing funny about a family trapped in the cold during a snow emergency realizing they don’t have a can opener. But I grew up in the Charismatic Renewal. I knew people who acted like a baptized version of a prepper. People in our community glumly believed that a cataclysm was coming, three days of darkness when we’d have to barricade ourselves inside in the dark to hide from demons. Of course, before then there would be a great persecution and most of us would be murdered by communists and gay people. Some nights I couldn’t sleep thinking about that kind of thing. It was a genuine trauma. Everything about preppers makes me feel like I’m going to flash back. And stories about preppers comically foiled by stockpiling guns but not more practical gear make me snort-laugh as a stress reaction. So I was laughing at the story of the preppers who couldn’t open their beefaroni.
“On the plus side they’ve got plenty of guns and ammo, so they can shoot the s*** out of the snow,” said the Twitter thread, and I thought I would cry with suppressed giggles.
I wondered if preppers were, on the whole, really that scatterbrained. I started looking at an online prepper catalog to find out the kind of organization that goes into that lifestyle. The catalogs do sell can openers, for the record. And then I was on the verge of tears again, for a different reason.
Many of the things in the catalogs are good to have on hand. Everyone needs smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as I found out earlier this winter. It’s probably good to have an emergency kit in the car and in the house in case of a crash or a power outage. But so much of this stuff– stuff that affluent paranoid people order so that it can sit unused in their prepper supply closet until it expires— could save the lives of homeless people and provide them with a modicum of comfort and dignity as well.
Take these hygiene kits, for example. They only cost four dollars each and they have a toothbrush and toothpaste, sanitary napkins, wet wipes, soap and a few other items. You could buy a whole stack of them to donate to a homeless shelter, and then keep another stack in your car along with non-perishable snacks and bottled water, to hand out to homeless people you meet. That could be a great help. And here are blankets to hand out with them. With COVID-19 regulations, a lot of places that would love to shelter as many homeless people as they can cram from end to end find themselves unable to take more than a few. Lots of people are trapped sleeping outside in this cold. Emergency blankets and sleeping bags could keep them alive another night. Also with COVID, the homeless need to protect themselves, but they can’t go inside and launder a bunch of cloth masks. Here’s a stockpile of disposable masks we could pass out.
The first time I ever met and talked to homeless people was when I lived in Columbus. I visited their camp with the preacher I knew; that was the first time I had any idea that homeless people were camping outdoors year round in Columbus. When I asked them what they needed most, they said they needed food, socks, toilet paper and propane. I realized in horror that they were relieving themselves right outside in their camp, and cooking their food out here too. The thought of people right in my city living in such unsanitary conditions made me shudder, and still does. Well, the prepper catalog has a toilet kit. Of course, it’s nothing like as dignified as giving them a place to come inside to use the bathroom, but in an emergency, this is more sanitary and dignified than the bushes. And for heating up their food, there are stoves and fuel. And yes, there are can openers on that same catalog page as well. There are even self-heating meals.
Here are warm tents.
Here are first aid kits.
Here’s a heater.
Homeless people could use all of this.
That was when it struck me: homeless people are not awaiting the eventual collapse of society. Homeless people are people for whom society already collapsed. I don’t think it will permanently collapse for the preppers in the way they fantasize about. But that worst case scenario is already real for the homeless.
It’s horrifying to remember that we live in a society where well-to-do people can stockpile all these supplies for the collapse of civilization– and meanwhile, there are people who live in civilization’s collapse every day of their lives, without help. We have people who make stockpiling, drilling and practicing for the End Times a hobby, and people who might as well live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland every day. Well-to-do people making comically bad use of the supplies they’ve stocked up when they do face a disaster, and people for whom disaster is their everyday state. Stories of preppers eating cold ravioli go viral, and homeless people die on the street unnoticed.
As Christians, it’s important to remember that we have only one hope of escaping the coming wrath. Because one way or another, the collapse of everything we know will come. We each have something less than one lifetime before we die. And nothing we’ve stockpiled on this earth will help us then.
The only thing that will help, is mercy. The mercy God shows us. And, somehow, by a way I can’t explain, the mercy we’ve shown others.
We have no business making fools of ourselves stockpiling supplies we won’t be able to use when the collapse of society comes– least of all when there are people who actually need them living in our society right now. We as Christians ought to prepare for the collapse of everything we know, by working as hard as we can for those society has already failed.
Not doing so would be as pointless as stockpiling bullets without a can opener.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy. Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.