These Free Vending Machines Are Filled With Necessities For The Homeless

"There is a critical need for access to food and clothing outside of the capacity that shelters can offer."

While studying for his PhD in law at the University of Cambridge, Huzaifah Khaled spent a lot of time on trains and at train stations commuting to and from Nottingham, England, some 90 miles away. 

"I consequently came into contact with lots of homeless men and women and I developed friendships with many of them over the passage of time — I always stopped to talk, often with a coffee or meal in hand," Khaled told A Plus. "I developed an acute understanding of their needs, and learned that even access to basic necessities, like food and water, was sporadic and oftentimes cumbersome."

Homeless shelters often have limited hours for drop-in services as well as early curfews due to scarce funding and space. "This can often serve as an impediment as it requires the homeless to schedule their days around visits to the shelter, making it hard to hold a stable job or see family regularly," Khaled explained. 

He believed there had to be a more effective way of ensuring necessities were always available to the homeless.

He came up with the idea of installing free vending machines for them that would be available 24/7. With the help of vending company N&W Global, Khaled was able to get the idea off the ground. He started Action Hunger, a nonprofit organization committed to alleviating poverty and hardship for the homeless.

Photo Courtesy of Action Hunger / Harry Ward
Photo Courtesy of Action Hunger / Harry Ward

Action Hunger's vending machines are stocked with water, fresh fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate, sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrushes, toothpaste packs, books, and more. Khaled and his team chose the items by canvassing many homeless people and speaking to local homeless organizations across the UK. The machines are restocked daily by a team of volunteers.

The vending machines are completely free and exclusively for those in need. They will only dispense items for those with a special keycard which Action Hunger's partner organizations give to the homeless. According to Khaled, their partner organizations are either homeless shelters, day centers, or other outreach services.

The cards allows a maximum of three items that can be vended during a 24 hour period. To have continued access to the cards, users must check-in weekly with partner organizations. 

"The idea is that users don't become dependent on the machines, and are working towards a long-term plan for getting off the streets," said Khaled, adding that the vending machines are meant to complement other existing services available to the homeless. 

"I believe continued engagement with local services is key to ending the cycle of homelessness, and linking the use of our cards to continued engagement with these services is a way I believe we can ensure that. It will ensure contact is sustained, and hopefully for long enough for their homelessness to be curbed altogether."

Photo Courtesy of Action Hunger / Harry Ward
Photo Courtesy of Action Hunger / Harry Ward

The first vending machines were released in Nottingham last month and Khaled says feedback has been "very, very promising." 

"The feedback from the men and women who've been using our service has been incredible — it's really making a difference in their lives and it's heartwarming to see our service being used exactly as designed," he said. 

This year, the project will expand to the United States. 

"We'll be installing a machine in New York in February, and San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles will follow," Khaled said. "We've had a deluge of interest from across America — from Alaska to Texas to Hawaii — and we're working around the clock to get machines ready as soon as possible. We've also had a lot of interest from France and Germany." 

One of the biggest challenges is finding a suitable location to install a machine. But, once a location is confirmed, everything else falls into place rather smoothly, according to Khaled. 

"I want us to have machines in towns and cities all over the world, and to positively affect the lives of many people as possible," he said. "That said, in an ideal world, I would never have needed to start this charity. In fact, I would love nothing more than to shutter this charity next week." 

Cover image via Arman Zhenikeyev I Shutterstock


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