Women’s shelters are often the first-stop safe location for women who are seeking refuge from abusive relationships. Shelters are halfway houses where many women and children get their first reprieve from a life filled with fear and pain; where they get their uninterrupted night’s sleep in days, months, or even years; and where they can take their first steps in their journey towards healing from their trauma and rebuilding their lives.
While shelters do provide a roof over the women and children’s heads, they are also chronically underfunded and always overstretched, relying on the surrounding communities and generous donors to provide some of the basic necessities needed to help get survivors back on their feet again. Whether it’s providing items to meet a baby’s needs, or sponsoring gas or a public transport pass to get a survivor to a job interview on time, we can all give a little something to support the efforts of shelters to help victims survive and thrive.
Here are 16 items that you can donate to help women in women’s shelters, for when they first arrive and when they are starting to rebuild their lives.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but it’s a start. When in doubt as to what necessities your nearest women’s shelter would welcome, always call to ask. And finally, if you can’t decide what to give, consider giving a cash donation instead so the shelter can buy what they need.
Introduction by Regina Yau and Samantha Joseph; List compiled by Samantha Joseph; Additional content by Regina Yau.
When they first arrive at the shelter
Recommendation for Donation 1: Bras and Underwear
We may take the basics for granted, but because of the circumstances of most women when they leave an abusive home – no time to pack, plan or prepare – even necessities have to be left behind. Bras and underwear will always be appreciated by women in shelters who may have left their abusive home with just the clothes on their backs.
Note: For hygiene reasons, please always donate new bras and underwear, not second-hand ones.
Recommendation for Donation 2: Gift Cards for Clothes
While donated clothes are always welcome, not everyone at the women’s shelter will be able to find clothes that fit right. It may seem small – after all, some might say, at least they have clothes – but when you have little to nothing of your own and you’re trying to start over, clothes that fit and fit the occasion can make a huge difference. It will enable them to buy something simple like pyjamas which play a practical role in providing comfort and giving them back some dignity by giving them something to sleep in aside from their day clothes.
A good night’s sleep is a rare commodity for many victims and survivors. Survivors newly arrived at shelters are often exhausted and sleep deprived. You can help shelters provide a comfortable, clean sleeping environment for survivors by donating clean bedsheets, linens, pillows, pillowcases, blankets, and even mattresses.
Recommendation for Donation 4: Laundry Detergent
Keeping clothes clean and fresh gives a boost of confidence and self-respect to women at the shelter and doing laundry (a very run-of-the-mill task) may help some survivors feel more normal again. So when you’re packing clothes, bed linens and other washable items to take to the shelter, don’t forget to include a few jumbo bottles of laundry detergents (including at least one type for sensitive or allergy-prone skin) with them.
Recommendation for Donation 5: Toiletries
There’s nothing like the feeling of cleanliness that comes with a good shower. Every shelter houses women with different hair types, skin types and hygiene requirements. So make a small but thoughtful donation by providing them with choices of hair care products, dental hygiene products, deodorant, body wash, and soap for something as basic as bath time.
Recommendation for Donation 6: Pads and Tampons
Even among women, we rarely talk about the need for sanitary products at shelters, but they are very necessary and often in short supply. Imagine not being able to access these things when you need them. It’s an easy and affordable thing to do to pick up a few boxes for donation the next time you’re at a pharmacy or supermarket.
Recommendation for Donation 7: Baby Supplies
Infants and toddlers who come in to shelters with their mothers are at a vulnerable age and need certain things – baby formula, baby blankets, age-appropriate toys like small stuffies, clothes for little ones that fast outgrow what they have would make a big difference in providing a little hope and easing a mother’s concern. So why not put together a nice box of all these necessities to donate to your nearest women’s shelter? At the very least, consider adding a few new packs of diapers and baby wipes to the list of items you plan on donating.
Children at women’s shelters are going through a confusing and often traumatic time in their lives but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to still be children. Games, crafts, and books will help both children and mothers find moments of peace and creativity. So if you have board games and video games that your children have outgrown, add them to the stash of things you plan to donate to the shelter. Pick up some extra sets of craft supplies the next time you’re shopping for your craft hobby or your kids. Get children’s books that your children have outgrown. Then box them all up and take them to the nearest women’s shelter.
Recommendation for Donation 9: School Supplies
Older children and teenagers at the women’s shelter should not have their schooling disrupted. Whether they will resume going to school or will be home-schooled for their safety, they will need school supplies. Ease the worries of both mother and child by donating stationery, text books, learning aids, used tablets and laptops, and even bus passes to help the kids get to school.
Recommendation for Donation 10: Pet Supplies
In homes riddled by domestic abuse, pets are often held hostage or tortured as part of the abuser’s modus operandi for controlling his partner and children. In many cases, women and children are reluctant to leave their home because they are unable to bring their beloved pet with them. Some women’s shelters are now recognising the need to house pets as part of helping survivors escape. If your nearest women’s shelter does so, consider donating jumbo packs of dog and cat food, pet shampoo, pet toys, cat litter, and other pet basics to help keep the shelter’s kennel residents clean, fed, and comfortable while they provide comfort to their human family.
When they are rebuilding their lives
Do you have work attire like suits, formal button-down shirts, tailored skirts, and pairs of nearly-new work heels that no longer fit you or which you just haven’t worn in months? Donate your gently-used work clothes and shoes to your nearest women’s shelter – this will give the women something suitable to wear when they go for interviews to start rebuilding their life, where potential employees are often judged first based on how they look. Remember to send them to the dry cleaners or launder them before donating them to the shelter so they are all fresh and ready to wear.
Recommendation for Donation 12: Personal Grooming Supplies
Seemingly inconsequential but incredibly impactful, nail polish and makeup provide an extra boost of confidence for survivors who are taking their first steps towards find work. Being well-groomed alongside being well-dressed will help them make a positive impression on potential employers.
Recommendation for Donation 13: Public Transport Passes and Gas Cards
Getting from one place to another in time for a job interview, meeting or just to get to work while staying at a shelter can be difficult, especially with the cost of transportation and gas going up year on year. Access to public transport for survivors at city-based shelters and helping survivors with cars to fill a tank with petrol will significantly ease this struggle. Depending on the location of the shelter, you could donate annual or monthly public transport passes to women at shelters in cities. For survivors with cars or doing car pools in suburban or rural areas, gas cards loaded with enough credit for several tanks of gas will help with up to a month of getting to work and back.
Recommendation for Donation 14: Cell Phones
When applying for jobs, cell phones are a crucial instrument of communication because it allows survivors to make follow-up calls and inquiries as well as provide potential employers with a way of reaching the survivor. If you have a few older models lying around at home, why not pass them to your nearby women’s shelter to be recycled and reused? Better yet, organise a cell phone drive to collect used – but still functioning – cell phones from your friends, family, and co-workers and deliver a box full of them (together with the right cell phone chargers) to your local women’s shelter.
Recommendation for Donation 15: New SIMs and Call/Data Plans
Some survivors do bring their cell phones with them when they escape. However, their source of income or access to their bank account may be cut off by their abusive partner or spouse who control the family finances. So donate a few prepaid SIMs for them to simultaneously obtain a new phone number that their abuser cannot reach them at while giving them a means to make calls to potential employers and landlords as they get ready to rebuild their lives. For those with smartphones, get them pre-paid data plans or make arrangements to pay for 1 – 3 months of a basic data package for them.
As part of applying for jobs, survivors will need access to computers to fill out online forms, write resumes, and email application letters. So if you have still-functional desktop computers, laptops, and tablets that you are no longer using or are thinking of replacing with a newer model, consider donating them to your nearest women’s shelter. Make sure to delete all your personal files but keep a word processing programme like Microsoft Word and a browser like Firefox or Google Chrome in the computer, laptop, or desktop you’re donating so that survivors have instant access to these basic tools.