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Have you decided how to handle a shirttail relative showing up on your doorstep when a crisis strikes?  What about a coworker or a neighbor?  What about a complete stranger?

Put more bluntly, how do you act in such a way that you will both make it through an extended disaster AND be proud of the person that you became and the actions you took to make it through?

If you’ve been open about what you’ve got stored up or if people know about your tactical background, it’s a distinct possibility–regardless of whether or not you actually have the supplies they think you do–that people will come to you in a disaster expecting you to give them anything you’ve got that they need.

It’s a fact that extra people will be a drain on your resources, but it’s also a fact that faced with such a decision, it may be difficult to turn them away. . .or not. 

When friends, relatives, and neighbors show up and start burning through your emergency supplies during a short-term disaster, it may not be all that bad of a thing.  It can bring you closer, give them the kick in the pants they need to prepare themselves, and possibly cause them to wait before doubting you in the future.  As a bonus, they might replace the supplies that they used with newer ones.  (If I were speaking, I’d insert a pause for laughter here.)

But what do you do in a long-term crisis?

In a long-term crisis the ante will be upped a thousand-fold and you will likely be faced with strangers who are in need, in addition to people you know and care for.  If you have planned so that you will have items set aside for charity, there are ways to help others while keeping a safety buffer between you and those in need that we’ll cover in a minute.  But first, it might be worthwhile looking at what people experienced during the Great Depression to avoid  becoming overrun by those in need.         

It’s estimated that the hobo population grew from 500,000 at the turn of the century to one and a half million during the Great Depression as 12 million people in America lost their jobs.  Job loss led to homelessness, and many took to the rails in an attempt to find work and improve their chances of survival.  As the depression continued, and more of the homeless stowed away on freight cars for shelter and free travel to look for work.

A code of ethics developed within the hobo population which included helping one-another through the use of ‘hobo signs’, which were symbols written in chalk or coal on fences, posts, sidewalks, homes, buildings, trestles, bridge abutments and railroad line side equipment, alerting other hobos passing through where they could receive a handout, where they would be welcome and which places they should stay clear of.  (David covers these in the Survive In Place course as an alternative method of communication in a long term post-disaster situation)

The following are some of the most common symbols used to alert fellow hobos:

  • A circle with an X in the middle signified “good for a handout”.
  • A V signified faking an illness for food or a place to sleep.
  • An M signified telling a hard luck story for food or a place to sleep.
  • A cross signified “angel food”–food was served to the hobos after a sermon.
  • A triangle with hands signified the homeowner was armed.
  • A horizontal zigzag meant a barking dog.
  • A square missing its top line signified it was safe to camp in that location.
  • A top hat and a triangle signified wealth.
  • A spearhead signified a warning that Hobo’s may need to defend themselves.
  • A circle with two parallel arrows meant to get out fast–hobos weren’t welcome in the area.
  • Two interlocked circles signified handcuffs–if found, hobo’s would be carted off to jail.
  • A caduceus symbol signified the house had a doctor living there.
  • A cross with a smiley face in one of the corners meant the doctor in residence would treat hobos free of charge.
  • A cat signified a kind lady lived there.
  • A wavy line signified water and if it had an X above the wavy line it meant fresh water and a campsite.
  • A square with a slanted roof with an X through it signified people living in the house had been tricked by another hobo, and thus was not a trusting house.
  • Two shovels signified work was available.

Savvy people learned/reverse engineered the hobo codes and made sure that the ones in front of their house/business said what they wanted it to say and, possibly more importantly, didn’t say what they didn’t want it to say.

The reason Preppers should be aware of hobo symbols is that they are still in use today, and recently I’ve stumbled upon a few sites promoting their use as a helping tool for people who find themselves on foot or riding the rail system, searching for help during a crisis.  It’s natural for someone to share their good fortune of the food and water (and in some cases shelter) they received with others who are in need and point them to the household who offered them help where they, too, can get help.  Most who show up on the doorstep of those extending charity through word of mouth and hobo signs will appreciate the help they are given and move on.  Unfortunately, some won’t.    

It’s worth noting that it’s been over 80 years since the Great Depression kicked off the wide use of hobo signs.  Things aren’t as simple as they were back in those by-gone days when Americans prided themselves on self-reliance and people were expected to make their own way.  It’s true that in 1935,  the middle of the Great Depression, the welfare system was put into place to help single mothers feed their children and to help dependent persons through those terribly lean times, but the help extended was meagerly.  At the heart of things, Americans still believed in self-reliance. 

Today over 47 million people receive food stamps, and those numbers have steadily grown since 2008.  Through entitlements like food stamps and subsidized housing, a portion of Americans have come to assume they will be taken care of.  If those entitlements ever dry up, people’s fear and anger could quickly turn into a powder keg of riots and looting, and at such a time, it will become critical to approach charity carefully to avoid some who would otherwise take advantage.

Here are a few steps you can take to keep a buffer between your provisions and those who may not be trustworthy:

Deliver Extra Provisions To A Neutral Location

Taking extra provisions to a Church or a community relief location will give you a buffer.  Then, if anyone comes to you for food, you can say that you gave everything you had to give and point them to the location.

Trust In Your Discernment

Discernment should never be underestimated.  If you have a bad feeling about the person who has shown up to your doorstep asking for help, trust your instinct! 

Show of  Force

Greeting a stranger while visibly armed may be necessary if there is widespread looting in your area.  It sends the message that you’re capable of protecting yourself and your loved ones.  During peaceful times, this approach may seem over the top. But in times of looting and worse, a stranger who approaches should expect caution on your part.

Keep Multiple Stores of Food

In general, keep multiple stores of food throughout your house rather than keeping it all in one location so that you can sacrifice one if forced to and still have a chance of having supplies.

Give vs. Letting Them Take

Never let people pick what they want from your food stores.  If you give them something, give them a little, and keep them outside where they can’t see your supplies, but don’t ever give so much that you appear to be overflowing with supplies.

(David’s note:  We don’t plan on “giving” anything away from our house.  We will give supplies to churches, cause mysterious packages to show up on our neighbors’ doors, and let people work for food, but we won’t “give” anything away at our house. 

Also, never tell anyone or show anyone anything that you don’t want them to tell everyone.  Getting a hungry person to promise you not to tell anyone what you’ve given them or what they’ve seen in exchange for you giving them food is going to guarantee that they tell you a lie in order to get the food.  Any peace of mind that you get from their promise is false.  Plan your words, actions, and what people see in advance so that they leave with the storyline that you have created…not one that you’ve asked them to tell.

I’ve spoken about this several times, but it’s worth repeating.  If you have the ability, set aside basic supplies for local law enforcement.  People have made immoral decisions to fill their empty bellies and the empty bellies of their families throughout history and providing for law enforcement in a long term crisis is one high-leverage way to help maintain order.)

Set Ground Rules

If this is all you can give, make this clear.  That way, the person you’re helping won’t be as likely to send more people to you for freebies.  This is by no means a guarantee, however. 

If you plan to help others during a crisis, consider stocking extra of the following:

  • Blankets–they can be purchased cheaply at thrift stores, garage sales, and moving stores.
  • Canned food–many don’t require cooking and can be eaten cold during a crisis.
  • Can Openers–they can also be picked up cheaply at thrift stores.
  • Peanut Butter
  • Canned Tuna Fish 
  • Protein or granola bars
  • Trail Mix
  • Water
  • Matches
  • Toothbrushes
  • Travel-Size Toothpaste
  • Body Soap
  • Aspirin/Tylenol/Advil
  • Alcohol Wipes
  • Band-Aids

Note: Although it’s sometimes suggested offering beans and rice to those in need, consider that those who are unprepared may not have a way to cook them.  Canned and prepared food will avoid that problem.  

Do you plan to help others during a crisis or do you plan to stay under the radar by keeping your preps to yourself?  Do you have any suggestions on how to safely offer help to others in need?   Please sound off by commenting below!

And, if you haven’t checked out Former Force Recon Marine, Chris Graham’s at-home 30-10 pistol training, please do so now by clicking >HERE<  If you missed Chris nailing a 200 yard shot with a Glock 17 on his first shot, check out the article and video by going >HERE<!

God bless and stay safe,

David Morris and Survival Diva




    23 replies to "Offering Help During A Crisis Should Be Approached Carefully"

    • john

      charity begins and ends with family and close friends the rest to bad and it sucks to be you

    • duggy dugg

      tell no one what you have

    • DC Man

      I have planned for my family of 4 to live on our supplies for 2 years without growing any food; although I will grow a garden. Like most preppers, my true food stores are not visible to anyone but my wife and myself as I do no think it a good idea to let my children know as they might innocently tell someone what they should not. I have evaluated my neighbors and have informed them as best as I can to prepare themselves. Those that prepare will survive and those that don’t will not. However, I will trust in God and if I am moved to help out one of my neighbors I will do so if it will benefit the community as a whole otherwise I will not give what I have prepared to give to my children. I cannot imagine giving and then letting them go hungry.
      When this crisis is upon us, we will stay in our home and I will be the only one to ever go outside. I will look and act the part needed so that no one will suspect that we are better than anyone else. I will survive and so will my family. I will help where I can but I will never give freely as this is why our country is where it is today. When I give it will be because it is earned and that person will value the work given to obtain their just reward. The weak and the unprepared will die but this a part of life and a cleansing needed throughout this country and the world.

    • Brescon

      My true first defense is a good offense; basically we will go to every gov food distribution event so we then look as needy as everyone else. I have a pull out kitchen pantry which i will stock with my gov handouts, some soups, canned beans & stews. My 2nd store is in my basement which ppl like the plumber, etc can see. It is meager, mostly my own cannings, some soups, the typical stuff we buy “on sale”. My true storage is hidden where noone can see it. It has 2 filled 55 gals of water, freeze dried foods, canned meats, dried soups, etc. enough for 5 to 7 for a year. My friends have seen my pantry so watching this go lower & lower will not surprise them & should convince them that we have no more than they have. We may even do a few trips thru the neighborhood doing our own begging.

    • Rob P

      The old saying about safety in numbers comes into play as any crisis drags on. If you don’t know if your neighbors have prepared or not then you can figure they will be paying you a visit. Severity can lead to demanding instead of asking. Wish that communities and corporations looked at what they truly need to overcome/survive.

    • Bran

      I know many people that know we’ll see economic collaps, but they will not do any prepping! one of them put in concrete drive instead. One bought red neck swimming pool and new fence. There are many more examples too. When these people look to me to save them, I don’t think so!

      • Survival Diva

        Yep. . . wide screen TV’s, new cars, new driveways, swimming pools. None of these things will matter when SHTF. Too bad there isn’t a magic pill for lucid thought : )

    • Bob R

      Keep in mind that there is a HUGE difference between conditions during the Great (pre-Obama) Depression and a wide-spread (possibly country-wide?) grid-down situation that lasts for months or a few years. During the Depression, food was available and wide-spread, albeit comparatively expensive to buy for those fortunate enough to have a house and job. In a real SHTF scenario, almost no food, other than what has been squirrled away by preppers, will be available, and that will NOT come close to feeding the 330 million unprepared for even a week. And, when a person is starving, as will happen if we face a real SHTF situation, hobo style manners and courtesies will rapidly go by the wayside. Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best. Reality normally falls somewhere in between, but in this situation, it will fall next to the worst of all possibilities. And, that, my friends, is what you need to be mentally prepared to deal with.

      • Hipockets

        Evidently you did’nt live thru the Depression in the late 30’s 40’s. I was a child then,but still remember Hobos comming to the back door now and then (in Watts,L.A. yet,and not near a railroad’) My Grandmother always fed them even though we had a struggle to feed the extended 3 generations living there’) They did’nt get much, but filled their belly,but she always found some little chore for them to do to earn it,even though there were others in the house to do it’That was when people beleived in you earning what you got,not like now’

        • Survival Diva

          I’m afraid you’re right about the differences between today and back during the depression. It’s likely a portion of people will be angry over the entitlements that are taken away, rather than thankful for the help they may receive. Wished it wasn’t so. . .

    • Sined

      I have heard the question, “Do I have to share my food storage?” Answered, “You don’t have to, you GET to share.” The Teton Dam Disaster (June 5, 1976) was then sited as a time when those whose food storage was destroyed by the flood waters of the dam bursting were helped by others whose storage was not destroyed. These good people gave some or all of their own food storage to those who had lost theirs. When sharing take all necessary precautions to protect your family but don’t be afraid to share; you wil be blessed for it.

      • Survival Diva


        Giving is righteous. One thing to keep in mind is that word of mouth spreads. If you are cautious when giving, it will keep you and your loved ones safer.

    • Christy

      Thank you soooo much for this very valuable article.I have struggled to find a solution that I and my husband are able to use. This article gives me several that I intend to implement
      AHEAD of time while I am clear-headed.

      This was a real God Send for me!

      • Survival Diva

        I am truly happy this helped.

    • Jean

      My survival preparations are kept very quiet and I know that I will never have enough to “share” what little we will have. My husband and I are retired and it is difficult to find the money to buy any extras. However, this leaves me with a moral dilemma. During the Great Depression, my grandparents lived near the railroad tracks and my grandfather had a standing rule that any hobo who came to the house was to be given a little bit of food and coffee. I was taught to give to others but never take charity of any kind and to work for what I needed or wanted. It will be hard for me to turn people away but I will have no choice.

      • Great Grey

        I know how you were taught but.
        Act 20:35 Jesus said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
        To never take charity of any kind, is a lie straight from the pit of hell. Based on false pride.
        First there is a blessing on receiving.
        Second when you refuse to receive anything you deny the person whom is try to give you something their blessing. (and what are you going to tell Jesus about why you denied them their blessing)
        Third you may miss out on being able to help someone that needs what you didn’t accept.

        • Hipockets

          Gee,this sounds just how the Indian tribes I know and have lived with think’ THey give you anything they have,never mind tomorrow,they will have nothing’ I’ve been blessed to learn from them,but will nowdays look after people close to me 1st. Times have changed.

    • Bob R

      We live in the country. In a grid-down situation, as hard-hearted as it sounds, if a stranger comes who offers nothing to contribute to the welfare of our small group, drastic measures will be taken. My wife and I have medical backgrounds and are fairly well stocked with medical supplies, but there is a limit to how many people we could feed. We would prefer to treat their wounds and send them on their way, but if they refuse to leave, I will not hesitate to “up the ante”. Drastically.

      • Survival Diva

        Bob R,
        Treating wounds is no small thing.

    • Bob

      Learn from history…Loose lips sink ships!

      • Survival Diva


    • Joseph-Lee Morehouse

      Hello David
      My group has talk about this issue many times and it hard to turn away people who are in need .
      So we came to a conclusion we would give out water and a list of places people can go for help. Yes that includes family. Those that are hurt and it miner injury’s we have nurses that can help. It may be cold blooded but , our group comes first .
      Our neighbors are like the lower end of society for the most part , our group already know we will have to come to my house and break out the weapons for a long sedge . I wish this wasn’t the case but this is reality We may allow others into our group if they bring supplies or a skills we need.
      We just don’t know how bad things will get until it happens , just keep prepping and keep the Creator in our hearts and minds. Thank you for these articles Happy coming 4TH OF JULY.

      • Survival Diva


        You have a sound plan. You can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t jeopardize your group. Water and medical attention for minor emergencies will be a blessing for those in need. Happy 4th, Joseph.

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