Free Preps — Really!

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Editors Note: A guest contribution from David Hoes to The Prepper Journal. I love this. Goes well as a supplement to the recent post on Prime Locations for Post Disaster Salvage. As always, if you have information for Preppers that you would like to share then enter the Prepper Writing Contest with a chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards  with the top prize being a $300 card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.

Okay, I admit it. I am a scrounger. I don’t do it out of necessity; I do it because I enjoy getting a bargain and building my prepping stockpiles. Now, I need to clarify that I do not steal things. I do not take towels from hotels or silverware from restaurants. I do not find and keep items such as wallets, credit cards, or electronic devices that can be traced to an owner. I do not keep anything that someone is likely to try to reclaim. Such items I will turn in somewhere. If I see someone drop something, I will tell them.

I’m also not going to discuss using coupons or discounts. These are both good ideas, but have already been covered.

That said, I do take items that are unlikely to ever get back to their original owner, and things that I am allowed to take or that are come with something I have purchased. If in doubt – I ask. Here are some ideas:

Personal protective equipment: Most hospitals and some doctor’s offices now offer free respirators to visitors. I’ve picked-up several of these. Protective gloves are often available in the ER or in patient rooms, and some give-out small bottles of hand sanitizer. I have a little psoriasis on my hands, and they are happy to give them out. In the quantities a hospital purchases them, they are almost free.

Wipes and anti-bacterial solution: Doctor’s offices and medical facilities often have solutions or wipes available for free. They bill your insurance $150 for a few minutes with a doctor. They don’t sweat the little stuff. Heck, ask your doctor for appropriate medical samples while you are at it. You never know what you may get.

Gauze, wipes, Band-Aids, and surgical tape: I have asked if I could take a few gauze pads, alcohol wipes, and mostly used rolls of tape when I have gone to labs and imaging facilities. They are normally okay with it.

Salt, pepper, sugar, condiment packets, and straws: These all have survival and medical uses. Grab a few each time you go to a fast-food place. During the depression in the 1930’s, those down on their luck would go to a diner and order a cup of hot water for a few cents. They would then add ketchup and other condiments to make a sort-of tomato soup. There is actually enough vitamin C in a few packs of ketchup to prevent scurvy. Is this stealing? If taken in reasonable quantities, I do not believe so. If I order a cup of coffee, part of the price I pay goes to cream and sugar. My ex used to take her coffee with 4 creams and 4 sugars. I do not use either, so I do not think taking one or two of each is stealing. Now, taking a handful? Yes. That is stealing. Asking for salt and condiments at a drive through? Nope. What they put in the bag is yours.

Soaps and shampoos: Yes, in a motel I take what they put in my room. I do not consider it stealing; I believe that I have paid for it and can take it. When I or a loved one is in the hospital, I take whatever they give as well. Hospital staff has told me on numerous occasions that insurance paid for it and if I don’t take it they will throw it out. Also, many hotels provide courtesy tooth brushes, tooth paste, and combs upon request. If they give it to you, it isn’t stealing, even if you don’t really need it. But no, I don’t take towels or rolls of toilet paper.

Candles at church: Many churches toss-out candles after one or two uses, and may give-away the used ones for free if you ask. Although some now use propane or natural gas simulated candles, those that still use candles tend to use ones of very high quality. Small stubs can be melted down and used to create larger candles. My church had a Christmas Eve service where everyone was given a candle to hold. They were lit for about 10 minutes and not reused. Hundreds of good candles were thrown out.

Community events: Where I live, they have several free community disaster planning, home and garden, and wellness events each year. They give-out items such as samples of seeds, dental floss and toothbrushes, band aids, energy bars, bottled water, samples of vitamins, water bottles, and other swag. At one event, the first 50 people through the door got a bag with some very nice stuff.

Food banks: I have been fortunate enough to have survived without going to one. However, if you are looking to build a small emergency stockpile, why not go and pick-up a few cans of food? They will probably mostly have items near or past the expiration date, but canned food is generally safe to eat long after the expiration date. I have eaten MRE’s and canned foods that were 10 years past their expiration dates and suffered no ill effects. The exceptions are if the can is damaged, in poor condition, or if the can contains acidic products such as tomatoes. Is it wrong to take food from a food bank if you are not immediately facing hunger? I think the answer is, it depends. If you are sufficiently wealthy to purchase your food and have plenty of money to stock-up on prepping supplies, I would say that it is wrong. However, if you can buy all you now need but are unable to afford to purchase a enough for a 72 hour emergency supply of food to see you through a disaster, I would say not. I donate money to food banks, and I give so that people do not go hungry. As a donor, I am not bothered by those who use the food bank to prepare for future hard times.

Wooden Pallets: I live near a business that sells pools and hot tubs, and another that sells paving stones. They dispose of dozens of wooden pallets each week. I have used them to create raised garden beds, for firewood, and for woodworking projects including building a bed frame for a futon.

Road Debris: When I drive, I keep an eye on the shoulder and medians. I frequently find bandannas, bungee cords, tools and knives, Bic Lighters (still good), coolers, storage totes, thermoses, 5-gallon plastic buckets, gas cans, and a variety of other items. Bandanas are my favorite find; I have found 30 or more. Bikers lose bandannas like crazy. Wash and reuse them. They have lots of survival uses. One of my favorite finds took place a few weeks ago. I found a Camillus Titanium folding knife lying in the road. It was a bit scuffed-up and not very sharp, but I cleaned it up, sharpened it, and it has become my EDC knife.

Post-disaster giveaways: Here in Florida, following Hurricane Irma, the County and many different organizations gave-out a lot of food and water to anyone who came by. No questions were asked. A friend of mine got dozens of bags of cookies, boxes of Pringles chips, ten cases of Civilian MRE’s and ten cases of bottled water. It is unfortunate, but the ones who give and the ones who distribute often have very different goals. Churches, civic groups and charities may raise money for 1,000 meals. They want to see 1,000 different people get food. Those who distribute the aid may not care. If one person arrives with a truck that can carry 1,000 meals, they may let them have it all. They don’t want to carry it back at the end of the day. They will report back that the food was distributed and everyone will be happy. Don’t be a pig, but if you can put it to good use, do so.

Free bicycles: I am only speaking about Florida, but I think this is true for other areas. Law Enforcement departments recover a huge number of bicycles that have been abandoned, discarded or stolen and that are not claimed by owners. In some places jail inmates repair them as part of a work program. It is not widely advertised, but there may be periodic giveaways where serviceable bikes are distributed on first come basis. I once had two bikes stolen in a particular county. One of the two was recovered, but I had already replaced it, so I donated it to this program.

Why am I mentioning bicycles? Well, because I believe that in a TEOTWAWKI situation, they may become the most important method of transportation.

Complaining about lousy stuff: I wrote a negative review about a pair of gloves I bought on Amazon. I included a photo clearly showing the defect. They sent me a new pair without making me return the old pair. The old pair went into my preps box.

I have complained about the quality of canned or packaged foods. They sent me coupons for free products. I DO NOT invent complaints to get free stuff. In some cases, the original product was so nasty I did not want coupons for two free ones. That was the case where I bought a can of collard greens that contained a large cockroach. Still, if you pay for a product and you really get something nasty, complain. Then add it to your preps. If SHTF and you have nothing else, you may be willing to risk eating a cucaracha. Even sending a suggestion may earn you a coupon for a free product. I told a company that sells crackers and tuna snacks that the crackers crumbled too easily. They send me a coupon for a free package. I did not lie and I did not steal.

Garbage day: I’m not going to go into the finer points of dumpster diving, but the finds possible on garbage day are incredible. I have changed residences 18 times since leaving High School. Many were interstate moves. When your car and U-Haul are packed to the max and there is still more stuff, you put it on the curb. I once had a Saturn so overloaded it could barely make 50 mph on an Interstate. I left a lot of valuable stuff behind that could have really helped some prepper. If you see a big pile of stuff waiting for the garbage truck, most of it probably still works.

I realize that my suggestions may be distasteful to some. It is much more fun to purchase prepper items from Amazon or WalMart. In America, second-hand, discarded and used are bad words. Nevertheless, if SHTF, scrounging skills will become more valuable than shopping on-line with a credit card skills. And if you have some more ideas, I would appreciate hearing them.

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