Charity When SHTF: How to Give So It Doesn’t Hurt

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Last Updated on September 1, 2015

Charity is a virtue that we all have to some extent. The amount of charity we are willing to dispense may have its base in our moral or religious values or it could simply be at our discretion based upon our perceived ability to be charitable or willingness in any given situation. We discuss charity on the Prepper Journal from the standpoint of actions you can take after a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI event to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. We make plans to set aside certain items with the idea that we will be charitable in some way if it all goes to hell.

But even if we have set aside more than we need with the express intent of ‘giving until it hurts’ I think there does need to be a little more thought put into how we plan to dispense charity if we want to protect ourselves as much as possible. Assuming it is the end of the world as we know it and you and your family, thanks to your preparations are adjusting to the crisis more or less unscathed. Have you thought about what affects your planned acts of charity when SHTF could have on your safety? Could that food you have stored in individual packets ‘to give out as charity’ end up getting you killed?

Should you plan for charity if SHTF?

I thought about this after an encounter I had a while back. I work in a decent sized city and we have our fair share of homeless people who are more visible now that the weather has started to warm up. I see them frequently when I go out walking but the other day when I was out picking up lunch, a visibly homeless man walked up to me and asked for fifty cents. I was just coming back from the sandwich shop and I had my drink in one hand and the bag with a tasty sandwich and chips in the other. He said he was just trying to get something to eat and regardless of what he actually did after he left me, the point is that I had an opportunity to dispense some charity.

I could have given him a dollar but instead I gave him ten dollars and told him to take that and go get a whole meal. It could have been an act, but he looked seriously confused. He said “Is this enough for a sandwich”? to which I told him he could get the whole meal I had and the store was just right down the street. He asked me to tell him what to say and I told him to order the #9 and what the sandwich had on it. He thanked me and walked away. I don’t know what he did with the money but that isn’t the point. I was able to give and I did.

Charity is much less risky now than it could be in a SHTF scenario.

Charity is much less risky now than it could be in a SHTF scenario.

I don’t think it will be any different if SHTF except that our willingness to give could change if the supply we have is more finite. There will still be people who want to help someone out who is down on their luck and I hope in some way I am able to dispense charity like I tried to do with this man on a street in the city. Could you be taken advantage of by people? Sure you could. Many of you would assume (normally I would too) that the man walked around the corner and promptly bought a cheap bottle of booze or the money went to drugs and that could be the case. As I sit here now, I am not harmed by what he did with my charity or the motives behind him approaching me. I could afford to give him the money and in doing so feel like I did my Christian duty in some small way.

But if the same scenario happens after TEOTWAWKI, that same interaction of someone asking me for a meal could have completely different consequences.

Charity in the Depression

Hobo Signs from the Depression warned other hobo's about the conditions they could expect.

Hobo Signs from the Depression warned other hobo’s about the conditions they could expect.

In the Great Depression there were millions of people out of work and who would routinely beg for either a meal or the opportunity to work. If we have an economic collapse like the Great Depression I believe it will be so much worse than conditions in the Depression. I know as a society we will be nowhere near as able to deal with the loss of jobs. Our society was largely agrarian in the 20’s so many simply continued living normally. Food wasn’t purchased in the grocery store it was grown or raised in your yard. Now most of our food is not grown anywhere near us and the people who are forced to beg for meals if the economy collapsed now could be exponentially greater and more desperate. Our moral standing isn’t what it used to be and we do not value life or honor the way our relatives in those days did.

Hobo’s would travel around looking for work or a handout and they had a system for marking homes they had been to with symbols. The symbols alerted other hobo’s as to the conditions in the homes. Symbols conveyed messages like ‘Food for Work’ or ‘Kindhearted Lady’ that communicated to anyone who approached the homes and saw the symbols, what their odds for charity were.

There were also other symbols that said things like ‘Tell a hard luck story here’ or ‘talk religion get food’ or my favorite ‘Cowards. Will give to get rid of you’. There is a whole series of hobo signs documented on this site. The point I am trying to make is that beggars can sometimes try to fool you. The best scenario in this situation is that they would leave with a little food. The worst case is you could get killed. At least they wouldn’t be back if that happened.

What do you need to do in order to avoid being the victim?

So how can you identify people who are truly in need of charity and more importantly how can you give out food or supplies or whatever you have planned in a way that doesn’t A) label you as an easy mark for future beggars and B) doesn’t get you killed for your supplies? I am not talking about people begging on the streets necessarily because I think walking downtown for a sandwich is going to be out of the question if we go through an economic collapse. I am talking about drifters. The people you will encounter on your streets and in your driveways. They may even be your neighbors.

In an economic collapse there will be more people begging than during the Great Depression. Maybe even you?

In an economic collapse there will be more people begging than during the Great Depression. Maybe even you?

Have a plan for Charity – I think that at some point we will all need to face the fact that our plans for riding out the apocalypse behind our doors isn’t realistically a long-term solution. You will need to interact with people and more than likely you will encounter an opportunity to provide charity. It may be that it is you who after you run out of your rice and beans, actually needs charity.

There will be people who come to the door. What do you do when they show up? Do you let them get all the way to your front door? If not, those are security issues you have to decide and plan for. What do you give them if they are hungry? Hurt? About to give birth? Dying of a gunshot wound? Does your charity have limits or guidelines? I think it is better to consider this now rather than assuming nobody is getting in until the last bean is gone. Besides, the person you help out could end up helping you out someday. Charity isn’t the problem; it is how we dispense it.

Set Ground Rules – Who gets what and how much and under what conditions? Do you have care packages of shampoo and toothbrushes to give out? What if they are asking for food? Do you give them some food and send them on their way? Do you invite them in if they look ‘like good people’? Do you allow them to sleep in your garage? What if your planned charity items are all gone? Some sample ground rules are:

  • Never let a stranger into your house.
  • People entering your property should be searched, preferably with plenty of security away from your home
  • Never answer the door without a plan for alternate points of entry (guard the back doors too)
  • The best plan is to not let anyone get to your door without your knowledge
  • Never dispense charity from your in-house stores
  • Work for food – if you plan to give out charity make it the result of work. If they work for a full day you will feed them for the day

Your rules will depend on your outlook on the prospects of charity, but it makes sense to set them down now.

Accept there will be cases of fraud but try to limit your risk – I don’t think you can ever assume that all people are bad in desperate times, just like I know all people are good in good times. People will lie to you. Some could be out to hurt you and take what you have. You could have cases where women are willing to work in special, personal ways for food or they could make you believe that some special snuggling is going to happen so you lower your guard.

Some preppers plan to dispense charity through a third-party like their church. This sounds great on the surface, but I don’t know how that will work in reality. Do you give all of your extra supplies to the church and tell them not to name you? What about when those supplies are gone? Assuming you were producing more food would you keep making food runs to the church and telling anyone who stopped by looking for a handout that there is food at the church and sending them on their way with a map? What if the church was overrun by a gang? Does your charity stop with what you already gave the church?

Let’s say you have given a ton of your supplies to the church and someone shows up on your door. She is a woman, no more than a girl really with a small child, it is late and the temperature is in the 20’s at night. The plan above would be to send her to the church but you know she won’t make it there tonight. She could have someone waiting in the dark for you to open the door. What do you do?

Protect yourself – I don’t have all of the answers, actually this post probably raises more questions. The point I am trying to make is that you need to think about how you will give out charity just as much as what you are setting aside for charity. I am sure that some people were injured and taken advantage of by hoboes even during the depression. If we go through a similar set of financial circumstances we could be in for the same challenges on a larger scale. Life in that respect will be much harder than most of us have ever experienced.

I still believe we can and should dispense charity as much as we can but I think we shouldn’t let our guards down. We should look at charity as a transaction between two people which is conducted with clear guidelines and rules. Even bartering would have risks in a SHTF scenario and there should be some distance I believe emotionally and physically if you want to do everything you can to ensure your safety. You can give out food if you want, but I would exercise extreme caution when you do. The bar for charity should be much higher in a SHTF scenario than a guy walking up to you and asking for some pocket change. Instead of losing some cash, you could lose everything.

What are your plans and thoughts on charity when SHTF?

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Interesting paper on pro-social behavior, specifically charitable giving:

Pat Henry

So does this mean I gave or we give because we are happier and I just ruined it all by talking about charity? 🙂


Of course not Pat, nothing ruined and I’m really sorry if my brief response came across as terse! I just think altruism is a fascinating, wonderful thing.

Pat Henry

No apology needed whatsoever! I didn’t think you were being terse, I was just trying to read into the findings of the study.

Illini Warrior

My question whenever this subject is raised …. to determine the amount of charitable goods available to dispense – to the sheeple that are scoffing & refusing to prepare themselves – you need to have a definite termination date for the current SHTF …. how exactly do you accomplish this feat when serious SHTFs can eazly combine and compound into longer term and more serious SHTFs …

Sorry, but “Charity Begins at Home” is going to mean even more during a SHTF …..


I had an idea if people want food after shtf, they can pick up a map in a plastic baggie of the area lakes down the road and up the road that says “Free for the Hungry”. Along with the map will be 10 feet of fishing line tied to a hook with long sticks laying nearby with instructions to tie the line on and where to dig for grubs, worms, carpenter ants, etc. I will include a couple matches to build a fire so they can cook the fish they catch. There will be other sources where on the… Read more »


I like this. The drifter-types who are experienced at being on the road will probably take you up on the offer. Suburbanites will probably try to approach your house for some canned goods and a roof because they’re not cut out for life outdoors.

Pat Henry

This is an interesting approach. I agree with usmarinestanker though that there will likely be people who don’t look at this as any help at all. I have heard others say they would do something very similar with hidden caches of food. Give them a map to find a small cache of food hidden a mile or two away but then I think you will still have the problem of people who are unscrupulous. Only the honest and good will take you up on your offer.

laura m.

Illini: Agree with you, besides family comes first, and how do we really know how long the shtf will go on? I give donations, etc. to several community charities, incl a handicapped facility, but when the fan gets slammed, I’m done until things get back to normal, and definitely won’t be running around town donating stuff. Today there is no excuse for others not to prepare themselves because the internet and books have info. for anyone. Adults are responsible for themselves/family.

Pat Henry

I agree that my charitable actions might be considerably less in a SHTF scenario if we are scratching to get by or the disaster is of some magnitude that I am overly worried about taking care of my own family. I still think that maybe in a smaller way we will be able to extend some form of charity to people who we believe are worthy.


how true, those that don’t prepare and scoff at the thought of it, deserve all they get post SHTF. they wont be around very long.


Beware women and children – they can be bait for patsies while her burly male friends or captors wait to overtake you at the door or when she lets them in at night. I have made it my plan that if SHTF, I will be the one who answers the door. If I am not home, the door doesn’t get answered. Living on a corner lot in a suburb doesn’t really give a lot of security opportunities except for the fact that my house is two stories and we can see far and wide over the single level houses. Without… Read more »


The Utah Mormons are a different breed, entirely. They take the faith a bit to seriously. If I answer the door it will be with a Glock 21 in my hand.

Pat Henry

That is my plan too unless I have some other able bodied adults in the casa with me. Ideally in SHTF I would have barricades and neighborhood watches. If it is that bad I want to see threats as far away as possible.


The other adults are going to be maneuvering to flank said person or group. Barricades are an iffy thing and might invite more trouble then they are worth. Jersey barriers and log barriers also provide great cover for dismounts. A lot of these ideas are going to be determined by who is left standing after any said event.


I learned early on, if someone asked for money for a cup of coffee or a meal, you instead offer to buy them that cup of coffee or meal instead of giving them cash (thanks to a wonderful teacher) so I agree with the work for a meal model…but that sets you up for an additional body to care for, even if their skills are worth it….or else advertising, as the hobos did during the Depression…this is such a difficult topic…


It really is. There was a prepper journal reader who commented on an article a month or two back that all our pontificating would probably fall apart where the rubber met the road and our families were truly in need. Hopefully we can be prepared enough materially to be in a better position for these decisions. It’s heartening to know that across the country people really are thinking and preparing though.


it’s a thin line, friend…i’m in a situation where i can very rarely provide charity now, although i try…but i could be the one who needs charity in the forseeable future…not for lack of trying…my previous preps have kept us out of the poorhouse…We may be prep poor at this time in life, not for lack of trying…but we do have barterable skills…this economy sucks!

Pat Henry

Grammy, I think this applies to all of us regardless of our situations. We could both need and be able to offer charity. Your version of charity could look completely different from what someone else is able to do, but it is the act itself of giving. This is a tough subject I agree but I like having these mental exercises because people raise great points that I haven’t considered. I am hopeful that if anything happens I will have at least thought through different scenarios and that will give me some perspective.


So if your church is on board then use your church to give, does your church have a plan if they do great. Most of your churches would be open to a plan just pull your pastor aside and ask him, if he is a spirit filled man he knows what is coming and is already on board he just might br practicing opsec and hasn’t announced it to everyone in the congregation. My guess he would vaule your imput and knowing there is one more on board. If he is a shepherd and not just a hired hand he… Read more »

Pat Henry

Great points, but I don’t think any churches in my neck of the woods have thought things out to the extent you mention. I wish they would and would make it known. Regarding food pantries I have heard anecdotally that many food pantries are suffering with the economy already. I don’t know how much help even churches would be in a crisis outside of emotional support and a central location.


Interesting article indeed. My look on charity is, If someone shows the need, the willingness to “work” for a handout than they are probably indeed becoming of the charity. Not saying they will indeed need to work for it, but at least show the willingness. I will NOT/EVER “give” to some of these people standing at the corner walking up to cars/people with their hand out “asking” for it, and “expecting” you to just fork it over. There was a study done way back that 90% of the “bums” had a pocket full of cash and in no actually need… Read more »


I think your spot on with the Church Idea. If your not a voting member your screwed.


I’m Buddhist, so I know I’m screwed…. LOLOL


So your goal is Bodhisattva? How stinkin’ cool! A worthwhile state, I’m definitely not there yet.


@Elizabeth Actually I also have some (lots of) direction to go, although I have practiced Buddhism for many many years and try (really try) to let that teaching seep through all of my life it’s at times really hard to keep form just yelling at the world to “STOP IT” when I see all that’s going on. At times I am able to go into 99% total meditation, but there is that 1% that’s hard to clear the mind of. Elizabeth not to be one that corrects someone so please don’t take this wrong but “A BODHISATTVA is an ordinary… Read more »


Indeed it is.


I will agree with you but if you were to read what I said about a church, I am not referring to a building or to the social justice things that pass for a church or for a different form of redistribution of wealth. The scripture doesn’t mandate giving all your stuff to your own harm, you give as you are lead, from a heart of gratitude, which is what this article was talking about and one way to do this, I suggested giving to a church lead by a spirit lead pastor, who himself is a prepared person, and… Read more »


@InspiredbyYeshua Just to clarify my comments a little, I have no problem with the followers of the church or any religion. I, at times, have at time have a rather powerful problem with “organized religions that “seem” to take and take from the gatherings for their own benefit. You know what I mean, the $Billions spent on a building when the people are starving in the streets. The holier than thou people that come across as “if you don’t believe in MY god that your going straight to hell” type, or even the newest ISIS group that say and practice… Read more »

Pat Henry

I think there are a lot of churches just like you describe. One reason for the sorry state of our churches in the U.S.


Pat, Good article and thought provoking, as always. My church has operated a food bank for years and our members have kept it going through generous donations of food. Even so, there are never enough canned and fresh food items to supply the needs of people for more than two or three weeks – and that’s based on “normal” circumstances. I don’t think there has ever been a discussion of what would happen if a SHTF situation arose, but my guess is that we would try to help our own members in need until food stocks ran out. I favor… Read more »

Pat Henry

Thanks Bolo!

I am in a small family church myself and we don’t have any supplies centrally stored for the needy. As of now we have a benevolence fund that goes to help people that the board approves are genuinely in need. I think there are many attendees that are like minded though so we go back to taking care of ourselves and by extension, the families would probably open their own pantries in a disaster to other members.

Thomas Paine in the butt

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’d put myself at risk to directly give out charity in a TEOTWAWKI situation, a localized SHTF situation would be different.

After some semblance of civil order was restored I’d like to think I would be able to help with material aid.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x