Totes of Hope


Since 1900, the American Red Cross has been tasked by federal charter with supporting our nation’s military members. Today, we are the number a military family calls when they need to reach their serviceperson in an emergency. We are smiling faces making the rounds at military hospitals, providing personal care items, and encouraging words. And we are respectful visitors paying tribute to veterans as they near the end of their journey. This important work is done by dedicated volunteers across the country and on American military installations worldwide.

Totes of Hope is a personal care kit drive in which items for homeless veterans are collected, assembled in a backpack or tote bag, and distributed through veterans’ hospitals or outreach programs.



Totes of Hope provides essential personal care items but are often inaccessible to veterans undergoing personal adversities.


How to Get Started

Step 1: Set Clear Goals and Objectives

Define your desired outcomes for the activity and create measurable goals and objectives to guide the planning process. We encourage you to integrate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations into your activity and be creative with your approaches.  


Step 2: Plan the Details

Contact a Veterans Program

   • Connect with a Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) representative to let them know you would like to organize a personal care item drive and have them direct you to a veterans hospital or homeless veterans program in your community.


Connect with the local veteran hospital or veteran outreach to gather a list of items they need before you start your personal care items drive. These items may include:

   • Socks

   • Toothpaste and toothbrushes

   • Hand sanitizer

   • Travel-size shaving cream

   • Disinfectant wipes

   • Soap or travel-size body wash

   • Dental floss

   • Deodorant

   • Hairbrush/comb

   • Travel-size baby powder

   • Travel-size petroleum jelly

   • Men’s or women’s underwear

   • Shower shoes or flip-flops

   • Winter hats/earmuffs

   • Gloves

   • Crossword puzzles or activity books

   • Magazines or books

   • Prescription caddy

   • Rain poncho

   • Drawstring bag or backpack


Determine the collection methods

   • Determine how items will be collected, including the type of container. Place collection boxes at various places such as your school or the community.


Please do not include items that contain glitter—it may cause respiratory distress in patients with compromised respiratory systems.

Please do not include any open items that have been used or are near or past their expiration dates. 


Step 3: Coordinate the Logistics

Collect personal care items

   • Set a date and time

       • We suggest a (personal care items) collection window of 2 to 4 weeks.

       • Consider planning the drive before/during the holiday season, Veterans Day, or Memorial Day.

       • You can also ask your Red Cross contact about any annual events the Veterans Affairs might have. Secure the venue(s) Obtain approval(s) before dropping off the collection boxes.

       • You can also reach out to local stores, organizations, or workplaces to see if they are willing to be a Totes of Hope collection site. Make sure you communicate the goals and objectives of this activity, along with the specific veteran’s program being supported and the Red Cross SAF program.


Package care kits

   • Set a date and time

       • Packaging the care kits requires at least an hour. This depends on the number of personal care items that need to be packaged.

   • Secure a venue

       • Find a spacious venue to host the packaging activity, where all care kit items will be assembled into totes/bags. You can do this in your school gym or cafeteria or ask the SAF unit to use a meeting room.


Assign roles and responsibilities

   • Recruit club members, friends, and family to help with collection drive outreach and kit packaging. Include information about Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) and Become a Volunteer during your outreach and the packaging event.

   • This activity requires volunteers to drop off collection boxes, pick up the collection boxes from the collection sites, and collect and package care items. We also suggest assigning volunteers to take turns visiting the collection sites to monitor progress.


Gather supplies

   • Create a list of supplies needed and arrange to acquire them in advance. You will need items such as:

       • Boxes for collecting personal care items. Tape the official Red Cross logo and list of items on the boxes before dropping them off at the collection sites.

       • Reusable bags, tote bags, or backpacks for packaging care kits.

       • (See Sample Messages for Thank You Notes section) Cardstocks and pens for writing thank you cards to include in the care kits.


Spread the Word

   • Advertise the activity through various channels such as social media, email, and school announcements.

   • Send a reminder with important details prior to the activity.


Step 4: Facilitate the Activity

   • Run through Step 2 and Step 3 in advance and engage the participants throughout the activity.

   • Make sure you inform your contacts at the collection sites before you drop off and pick up the collection boxes.

   • Arrive early to set up the packaging activity by grouping similar items and making an assembly line so volunteers can easily package the totes.

   • Work with the veteran’s program or hospital to determine how to deliver the care kits best.


Step 5: Debrief and Thank Your Volunteers

   • Invite participants to discuss their experiences and capture lessons learned.

   • Thank everyone who contributed and participated.

   • Remind volunteers to record their hours through Volunteer Connection.