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Hits and Misses: Lessons Learned After Six Years of Prepping

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: August 24, 2021
Hits and Misses: Lessons Learned After Six Years of Prepping

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As someone who has been prepping for six years, I have learned a lot along the way. During these six years, my survival skills, food and water storage, and general knowledge have grown exponentially to the point where I have grown comfortable, if not complacent, with my preps.

Alas, the world has changed a lot since 2010. Things I prepared for on day one are now far less important in the big scheme of things than the things I prepare for today.  Things I prepare for today are more far-reaching than issues associated with geographic isolation, the next big earthquake, or a regional food shortage.  What I now prepare for is a Venezuela-type economic melt-down, or a Cyprus-like seizure of bank assets and depositor bail-in.  I also prepare for an extended power outage lasting a year or longer.

Lessons Learned After 6 Years of Prepping | Backdoor Survival

There is something else. I am older and I am tired.  I do not have the energy I did when I first started to prep, and I want to enjoy life more. I also have had a couple of health related issues to gave me pause for concern.  Finally, for six years, much of my free time has been spent learning skills and searching out tools that will come in handy if forced into survival mode.  It has been a rewarding, but exhausting and oft-times expensive experience.

So what happens next?

It makes no matter whether you have been prepping for a year or for six years.  Everyone who preps needs to assess what they are currently prepping for and why. They need to inventory their preps on hand (skills and stuff) and determine what is lacking.  Equally important is to come to terms with what needs to be let go. And by let go, I mean “it ain’t going to happen”.

That’s right.  I said let go. Life and circumstances change and some preps that were vital and necessary a few years ago, may no longer apply. They may be taking up physical space that can be better used in some other fashion, or may be burning up brain cells that can be put to better use enjoying and experiencing life.

On the other hand, many preps do stand the test of time and can be used, if not day to day, then on occasion when a small disruptive event, such as illness or a power outage, occurs.  Those stay and become the foundation for new preps, whether they be skills or stuff.

Below you will find two lists that include many of the lessons I have learned during my six years of prepping. One is a list of keepers and the other is a “let it go” list.  I should note that some of the items on these lists have has fallen out of my upcoming cross-state relocation, where tough decisions had to be made relative to both time (do I really need to practice that?) or the expense of carting things around.

For some, these lists will be heresy.  For others, they will be a jump off point for forming your own lists.  You be the judge.

8 Prepping and Survival Hits

1.  Medical and sick room supplies:  Trust me, even if you are the poster-child of good health, at one time or another, you will become injured or sick.  Having a robust first aid kit, a stockpile of prescription drugs, and sick room supplies should be a given for every prepper.  Medical and sick room supplies should be front and center right along side food and water.

2.  Having an evacuation kit is not optional:  There is always a teeny tiny chance you will need to evacuate.  Have the necessities ready to go.  Having an adequate evacuation/bug out kit is more important than having someplace specific to go to when the SHTF.  When life and limb are on the line, you need to be ready to get out of dodge.  While you are at it, keep a good pair of well-fitting boots and socks ready to go as well.

3.  When space is precious and even when not, multi-taskers rock:  Whether it is duct tape, honey, hefty-bags, or something else, acquiring supplies that have multiple uses will save time, money, and space.

4.  Planning for short term emergencies of a month or less should be a top priority:  I see it often.  Prepper wannabes outfit themselves with all of the latest gear but don’t have a month’s supply of food, water, and cash. Start your prepping by ensuring that your short term needs are taken care then expand beyond that as time and budget allows.

5.  Solar panels to charge electronic devices is not a waste of money:  Staying in touch and being entertained are two important components of preparedness.  Inexpensive solar devices can be used to keep your gizmos running if for no other reason than to access your eBooks, audiobooks, and music.  With some advance planning, you can download movies and store them on your device or a flash drive/smart card, giving you hours of entertainment if the grid goes down.

6.  Cooking from scratch is a basic skill that should not be shortchanged:  When I restock my food storage pantry, canned goods will take a less prominent position.  By storing bulk foods, you get more calories per cubic inch of storage space.  That said, make sure you know how to cook using bulk foods. That usually means cooking from scratch.

7.  Freeze dried food is a necessary luxury:  Freeze dried food, if properly selected, can be both tasty and economical.  The key is to purchase small quantities at first, and run a taste test before committing to a large purchase from an unknown vendor.  I personally have my favorites (Legacy Foods from Buy Emergency Foods and Mountain House) but I had to kiss a lot of frogs to get there.  Purchasing the individual ingredients as well as meal pouches will give you the most options.  As I have learned, the very best part of freeze dried foods is they have a long shelf life and are easy to transport when compared, weight-wise, to their canned brethren.

8.  Sewing and mending by hand will keep your clothes and other soft goods in good working order:  With some practice, you can learn to mend rips, tears, and holes in clothing, blankets, towels, and other items that tend to wear out.  Honestly, it is not that difficult.  The hardest part is threading the needle and a magnifying glass will solve that problem.

7 Prepping and Survival Misses

1.  Survival trinkets are a waste of money:  I am a both embarrassed and ashamed to have promoted such items in the early days of blogging.  A credit card tool, for me, proved useless.  So what if it only cost a few bucks? That is just one example of from the pile of “survival” junk I have tossed.

2.  Certain canned foods are not worth storing:  Canned foods are heavy and take up a lot of space.  I totally agree that canned goods have their place, especially when preparing for short term emergencies.  That said, don’t store canned goods unless they meet the following criteria:

Have a high water content to supplement stored water supplies.  Soups (but watch the sodium levels) and canned fruits and vegetables are good.  Canned ravioli?  Not so much.

Provide significant protein.  Canned meat, chicken and seafood are good examples of protein sources.

3.  Junk saved for barter:  Storing items to be used in a barter economy is a good thing.  Good examples are first aid supplies, fire-making tools, toiletries/personal items, and warm blankets and socks. Plus food, of course.  Not so good is pure junk.  While cleaning our my storage area, I could not believe the discarded junk I had accumulated just for the sake of barter.  You will be better served by getting rid of junk that is really garbage, and storing items for barter that you may actually use yourself some day.

4.  Ten water filtering bottles per person are five too many:  What was I thinking?  It is good to have some redundancy but do keep track of what you have and fill in the gaps in your preps with additional items and not more of the same.

5.  Rotating water is a waste of time and effort:  Water does not go bad but it can become contaminated,  Dumping perfectly good water is a waste of time.  First of all, make sure the containers you use for water storage are clean and all contaminants are removed.  Second, if unsure, use “old” water for hygiene, cleaning or flushing purposes.

6.  Spending a lot of time and money on bug-out strategies:  If bugging out is not going to be an option except in the most extreme cases, quit worrying about saving for an underground bunker in the middle of nowhere.  Instead, have a solid evacuation plan you can put into place if your home becomes unsafe.  Make a deal with friends or relatives to stay with them if you must avoid Camp FEMA and do your darndest to figure out how you will get there.  Then let it go.

7.  Radio and communication gear is useless if you don’t know how to use it:  It does not matter whether it is a crank up emergency radio, FRS/GMRS two-way radio,or Ham radio.  If you don’t use it regularly, you won’t know how to use it in an emergency.  What I have found is that using radios every few months is not often enough.  Monthly or even weekly is the only way you will learn.  You need muscle memory with all of your emergency devices.

A Word About 12 Months of Prepping, One Month At a Time

I still believe in 12 Months of Prepping, One Month At a Time.  In 12 Months of Prepping, I lay out strategies that can be embraced at a slow place so that at the end of the 12 months (you can start anytime), you will be well-prepared for a short-term emergency.  It is not a comprehensive plan, and was never meant to be more than a jump off point for longer-term prepping strategies.

All that being said, 12 Months of Prepping is due for a major update so it incorporates current thinking as well as special preps for special needs, whether for senior preppers, the disabled, or young families with infants.

The All-New 12 Months of Prepping promises to be the Backdoor Survival opus for 2017. But in the meantime, it is not to be missed by anyone wishing to prep but not knowing where to start.

The Final Word

Prepping can be lonely.  It can also become an obsession.  Coming to terms with these two facts is going to help you become better prepared.

We all know that old habits are difficult to break.  Still, with a bit of perseverance and fortitude, you should be able to step back, take inventory, and evaluate where you are with your preps.  What’s good and what’s not?  What stays and what goes?  What worries you the most and keeps you up at night?  Figure these things out and when the time is right, refocus and begin anew.

Once you do, you will become a better prepped, and better prepared.  I can pretty much guarantee it.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

If you enjoyed this article, consider subscribing to email updates.  When you do, you will receive a free, downloadable copy of my e-Book, The Emergency Food Buyer’s Guide.

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 Below you will find links to the items related to today’s article.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath:  The hallmark book, by award winning journalist Ted Koppel, will hopefully educate the sheeple and motivate them to embrace the message of preparedness.  For the rest of us, there is much to learn about the state of preparedness, or lack thereof, at the highest levels of our government.  Read more:  Prepper Book Festival 10: Lights Out by Ted Koppel.

One Second After:  For many, the novel “One Second After” was a game changer that convinced them of the need to be prepared. It is a story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war based upon an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) used as a weapon.  It could happen.  If you have not read this book, you really should.

Midland 36-Mile 50-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radios: These are the handheld radios that I own. There are lots of good uses for the these radios. Handy while hiking, traveling, or simply keeping in touch with your partner while out shopping. They have a decent range and are waterproof – qualities that I feel are important. Plus, in addition to using the included rechargeable batteries, they can use regular AAs in a pinch.  Just be aware that getting a 36 mile range out of any handheld FRS radio is a myth.  4 to 6 miles is more likely.

Baofeng or Pofung UV-5R Ham Two Way Radio: The Baofeng/Pofung UV-5R is a compact hand held transceiver providing 4 watts in the frequency range of 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz It is a compact, economical HT that includes a special VHF receive band from 65 – 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band. Dual watch and dual reception is supported.

Here is the antenna I ordered along with the programming cable: NAGOYA Antenna for BAOFENG UV-5R and USB Programming Cable for Baofeng UV-5R UV-3R+.  Need help with setup?  Read How to Set-Up and Master Ham Radio Without Going Crazy.

Kingston Digital DataTraveler Flash Drive: I much prefer these metalized flash drives because the ring will not break.  Been there, done that.  These flash/thumb drives have really come down in price and are great for storing important documents.

Choetech 19W Solar Panel:  This lightweight and compact solar panel works great.  The two integrated USB ports are both rated equally so you do not have to fiddle around to see which one will work with your device. Learn more:  Charge Your Devices With the Choetech Portable Solar Panel.

Maelstrom TAC FORCE 8″ Tactical Boots: You will just have to take my word about these boots.  Most colors and sizes come with free returns so there is really no risk.  Lightweight and comfy, I wear these even though the stuff has not hit the fan.  Not yet, at least.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter:  The LifeStraw contains no chemicals, no batteries and no moving parts to wear out. It features a a high flow rate and weighs only 2 oz. It works quickly, taking roughly 3-5 seconds of sucking to start the flow of water through the filter. It’s ultra-light and inexpensive but effective.  There is also the LifeStraw Family that will purify up to 12 liters per hour.

How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew:  You are going to love this book.  It is charming and and timely and filled with good-natured humor and the loving spirits of grandmothers everywhere.


Third Edition:  The SURVIVAL MEDICINE Handbook

A frequent question I get on Backdoor Survival has to do with healthcare matters when there is no doctor around. This is the definite source of survival medical information for all Prepper’s and is my go-to bible for survival medicine.

Survival Medicine Handbook 2016

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45 Responses to “Hits and Misses: Lessons Learned After Six Years of Prepping”

  1. Gaye, you noted the Choetech solar charger. Has your experience been positive? Can I charge an external battery pack for use later? I’m hesitant to buy another panel without hearing from real users of it. the last one I bought (different brand)did not work as advertised and I had to return it.

    • Here is the review I did on the Choetech. //

      It works great and yes, I did test it with both an external battery pack and my Goal Zero charger for AA and AAA batteries. I also liked the RAV POWER solar charger but apparently it is no longer available. SunJack, and of course, Goal Zero, are great brands.

      I have tested a few others that did not make the cut. I don’t mention them because too many people speed read and don’t realize I am giving them a negative endorsement.

  2. A very good article and sane! I read so many who are fixated on the “end of days” SHTF, etc and guns. Lots and lots of guns! Before electricity, during the Great Depression, during our last depression, people were still human beings, nearly all are decent with the media giving our rotten apples their 15 minutes of fame or more.
    During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my dad worked out a basement bunker, water source and we canned what seemed like a ton of food, just in case. We used that food for years when my dad lost his job later. I learned a lot from that experience. Frugal but high standards! Don’t waste! It sounds like I lived in the 1800’s but we did go into the forest every summer and picked the blackberries, parked along ditches and picked elderberries. My mother was an expert canner and we loved the fruits and pickles, corn and tomatoes in the dead of winter. And by the way, my dad was an executive in industry, so you just never know what can happen. My former husband, a doctor, used to throw away brand new clothes that he had bought on a whim. I’d get them out of the trash, still in their wrappers and take them to charities for the tax write off. He is now renting his basement to make money! He was the proverbial grasshopper while me, the ant, worked to conserve. Yes, I’m a prepper but I never knew it until about a year ago! Now, I have food that will outlive me! I feel rich!

  3. I too stopped rotating the water. I’ve been buying bulk dry goods based entirely on what I cook, instead of canned goods which have taken up too much space. If we did have to leave town, hauling the buckets & bags, etc would be much easier. We’re in the middle of a small town and would stay as long as we could depending on how starving the neighbors get. The neighbors aren’t the sort to be prepared for anything so security is a huge issue for me. I’m looking into fire retardant paint or anything for the house. One match is all it’d take from someone hungry. But before this we really should be gone, right?! Something is coming real soon. It scares me only in the fact that it WILL get real bad real quick. I know our limitatins physically and I know my husband’s limitations mentally when it’d come to not living in comfort. I’m frequently told “Just tell me what you want me to do.” and then “Just tell me how to do it.” The later means I just need to do it by myself. It doesn’t take 2 doing and 1 standing around watching to get anything done. Yes, I’m an extremely independent person. If I don’t do something right the first time, it gets undone and done correctly (usually HOW I’ve learned to do everything anyway).

    Gaye, referencing the Midland two ways and the hams, anything you could add such as drawbacks or hints, or regrets or not, would be appreciated because I value your opinion. I used walkies daily years ago before cell phones and they were indespensible for me & a daughter who lived 2 miles away; new ones are in order. Your recommendations are usually on My List for a while before I actually purchase. I thoroughly research all reviews and how to use, etc beforehand. The solar panels will be purchased (do these need to go in a faraday cage? Im still confused about what should, and what doesn’t need to be protected, i.e. batteries, flash drives). I’ve been limiting what NEEDS to go in one if/when we have NO power for years. I believe something will happen, nevertheless, how long it will last is anyone’s guess. I’ve been trying hard to focus on our Basic needs, no hype from outside sources who don’t know us, as many other bloggers do. How in the world you find the time to help so many others has been quite a blessing, Gaye. When I feel paralyzed I RUN HERE.

    • I actually took the Midlands out of the Faraday cage for the trip. I want to start using them again because, as I mentioned in the article, it is so easy to forget. My issue with the Ham radios is separate. Everyone wants me to become a Ham radio hobbyist and I really do not have an interest. I simply want them to use in an emergency.

      So yes, I will take heed and think about putting together a separate post.

      As far as how I find the time? Let us leave that alone for another time.

  4. I used to change out our stored water, but I do not do that anymore. I will just filter it through the Berkey when I need to use it.

    My husband also had one of those credit card tools which I bought for him. It was confiscated by the TSA. He said I did not need to buy him another one. I don’t think he was impressed by it. 🙂

  5. Gaye, this was such a timely article for me! Thank you for always sharing the REAL truths about prepping and giving us perspective.
    BTW, I was looking at getting a pair of those boots you recommended, and I was wondering whether you own the black or tan version and which you would recommend for the desert. The black seem to have a more sturdy toe, but… they are black. Not sure how warm they’d be in the desert sun. Have you used yours for hiking? Some folks on Amazon said they didn’t recommend them for that. Thanks!

    • Mine are the tan color. I have not used them in the desert (yet) because I am still in Washington State. That said, I wore them full time for almost a week and during that time, hit the local trails daily. There are a lot or rocks, branches, and brambles and I did not lose my footing.

      As far as the black being sturdier in the toe area, that is not logical since I believe they are exactly the same boot.

      By the way, regardless of the heat, I always wear good hiking socks when on the trails.

  6. Recently, I had to take a step back and re-evaluate my preps. Putting a down payment on a vehicle, and having family move in to the tune of 6 new mouths to feed until they get on their feet again, has taken a toll on finances and preps. Watching preps blow off of the shelves every day now, I have a real feel for just how much it is going to take to feed and clothe the whole family. It is far more than I had counted on. Dealing with a much less than frugal DIL, 3 very picky kids that waste food- has put me over the edge more than once. My connected son is a prepper, but has not been living in the same state with them and has been unable to teach them the meaning of frugal and why not to waste food and goods. He will be joining them by the end of the year, and make my job of teaching them less hairy, and maybe my blood pressure will come down too. Thankfully, I have long-term preps that are UNTOUCHABLE. That keeps me from going off of the edge. She was using my store-bought preps as an extension of the kitchen pantry with impunity. ARGH! Where we would take a can or two for rotation or to fill a void for the day before payday, she would take an entire flat. I do not mean this as just a rant. My best guess is that I am not the only one facing these challenges. It really has been a game-changer and taught me much about how our disposable and consume, consume, consume- based society is bringing us to absolute ruin. I love my kids and grands, but they have to learn the truth and act on it. I have set boundaries and that has caused conflict- so be it. What would have fed 2 for over a year is nearly half gone in less than 6 weeks. Unfathomable. When it’s gone, it’s gone. I will not replace store bought goods (unless I hide them) until they are in their own home again. For me, it is not so much a matter of letting go of preps that ended up being useless, but a real- life learning curve about just how far preps will go, and the inherent issues that occur with accepting other mouths to feed. Being on fixed income, it is a struggle just to obtain the minimum while eating daily as well. When it was just us, we would eat eggs or french toast or oatmeal 3 evening meals per week to be able to afford our meager preps. While I am glad to help, I am also devastated by ignorance and waste. It is intolerable. I guess this would have best been written about in reply to a different blog piece, but this one is about life changes, and man has my life changed! Thank you for being a level-headed prep blogger, as I have learned much from you. Folks like you are hard to come by. Good luck on your move Gaye.

    • Chris, Gaye for some reason is always right along with my head. The paring down of late has been my priority. I’m focused on the very basics and what we DO use. BUT, I also have the DIL, kids, and son to help during all this. Wasteful. Their reasoning is they don’t have the money (he was outta work for months & bills piled up & that’s when they turned to me) to prep even though DIL and I talk all the time about prepping. I flat out told her the other day ‘I’ don’t have enough for all of us (knowing full well if it came down to it I’D be the one to help. She use to be the one I turned to to let it all out. Now I talk trivialities only. I don’t begrudge helping and never bring up helping them because what I do is a Blessing (for me as well) and not a loan, BUT, and a but negates the previous statement doesn’t it, but I’ve felt taken advantage of, of late. They as well as my husband are so wasteful. He has the mindset that if we have more he can run through things that much faster. He’s been doing this apparently all his life. Examples: throws out the ’empty’ container of coffee when there’s enough for 1 more pot, TP in the wastebasket with enough on the roll for 2 more sittings, runs to the store 15 miles away multiple times in a day because ‘this was the wrong size’ or other stupid reasons, laptop has 1 broken hinge “I need a new laptop”, sports car with 250 buck a piece tires w/locks (he is 70), pillow has a crease (literally) & will go buy a new one, and the list goes on. He is the instant gratification type. I COULD SCREAM! Also signs of dementia have started and that’s a whole nuther story. I’m afraid I’m drowning. I’ve lived frugally for so many years I cannot change. I’m 60 and was conditioned by my maternal grandparents (you wouldn’t believe what all they’d stored away in their house, now mine, when I was cleaning it out). I’ve gotten to the extreme point of snapping at everyone. I’ve wanted to give up. I feel as if I’m wasting my time and money. I too have started hiding things from all of them. It actually makes me sick to watch commercials, etc, and read ‘prepping’ bloggers pushing, pushing, pushing with the waste going on. This is my rant and I chose to comment under yours. I DO apologize. Much much more could be said by each of us if given the space, but.. Gaye I’m so thankful for levelheadedness from Gaye and most of her commenters I could shout.

      ps. We did purchase an extremely well cared for 1977 Chevy C10 fleetside for $1500 last month. It just needs cosmetic fixes and I could give a hoot about that. The owner was a kid with a girlfriend who didn’t want to be seen in an old truck, his bad.

    • Tricia- no need to apologize. You certainly have people like me (us) to talk to instead of blowing up. You have a very difficult situation to deal with for sure. If he is 70, then he is old enough to know better. I’d want to scream too. Oh, wait, I DO want to- but my people driving me nuts are 5, 7, 12, and 32. I will try to be patient and teach them. Hang in there, you are not alone.

  7. Really great, very important article. You’ve illustrated the thought process we need as we go through our existing preps.

    I’m 55 and this is the 5 year mark for me. I’ve been sifting through my preps for at least a year now.

    Just realized it is like dumping out a puzzle box on the dining room table. At first you are so enthused you find all the corner pieces and work at it it for hours. Then you reach a point of touching and shuffling the pieces when you walk by the table, but haven’t made any more progress on the puzzle.

    I have many survival bags of different sizes and purposes. I get stumped over questions like needing to pack certain articles of clothing yet also needing to use that clothing once winter comes.

    **** So I’ll make this point: I have a lot of redundancy in equipment, but no redundancy in boots or wool long underwear, or even pants and wool sweaters. Maybe I should have reversed that when I was spending money.

    ***** On the plus side, I just finished going through my food and giving away every single item that I don’t like or have become allergic to (all products containing tomatoes, citric acid, or wheat).

    Then I dusted and organized what’s left, the stuff I actually like. I found canned artichoke hearts, canned coconut milk, canned peaches and pears. These are things I love. And of course, a two year supply of grains and beans.

    Now, to put this food management into perspective. I asked my husband to go, and take all the tomato and pasta and tuna with him. I have no money for food, I will be eating my food preps for quite awhile, and grateful to have them.

    • Did you “give away” or “discard” your husband, too? If you did, I am sure you had a good reason. 🙂

    • LOL at first I thought you were asking me if I was taking my husband, Shelly, to Arizona with me. Of course I am!

      Not sure about Karen but if she dumped her husband, like you said, I am sure she had a good reason.

    • Hi Jan, and Gaye. My husband is a chronic alcoholic. I have been a doormat for too many years. Very grateful for my food preps at this time. Prayers always welcome. K

    • Karen, I will definitely pray for you and also for him. We all need prayers! I have many food sensitivities. Tuna is one of mine and I really like tuna. Bummer.

      Gaye, Thank you for making prepping fun. Reading your daily newsletters reminds me and encourages me to continue to get organized in all areas of my life.

    • I, too, often refer to prepping as giant jigsaw puzzle with 1000 tiny pieces. If you can not find a critical piece, you become frustrated and want to give up. It happens. But don’t give up, just take smaller steps (and get a kids jigsaw puzzle with fewer pieces).

  8. Excellent article. I agree 100% on what I thought was important when I first began prepping. Today I am 6 years older and being 6 years older at my age means something. My husband and I have been discussing moving but as I said being older does mean something. We have decided to stay put and make do with what we have instead of searching for the perfect prepper retreat. Besides, we would have to rent two moving vans to get everything to the new location. I do feel we are very close to whatever, you fill in the blank and as such being in the middle of a move when it happens would be very bad. In my humble opinion. Thank YOU for all that you have taught me and continue to do so.

  9. I too bought many things over the years that have no practical use in the long run. Like you said, you live and learn. Everyone has to let go of something’s because I have found that no matter how much space you have or how organized you are, you eventually run out of space! Keep in mind that when you inventory and make the let it go decision, to donate to charity!! I worked with a hospice client once that was so poor they didn’t even have a blanket to cover their loved one. There is always someone who needs all the things we take for granted.

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