For most people in America, ideas of travel-sized toiletries are predicated upon privileges we often take for granted.
“Travel” is something for people who have a home to return to.
When we take a vacation or go on a business trip, we spend hundreds of dollars — sometimes thousands — on plane tickets and lodgings. Packing travel-size toiletries ensures we stay clean and comfortable without upsetting the TSA.
For homeless people, however, travel isn’t a choice. To survive, many of them must wander the streets begging for food and loose change.
On the rare occasions when they do have access to a bathroom or shower, there usually isn’t any shampoo or soap to help them scrub away weeks of being exposed to the elements. This situation is when travel-sized toiletries can be valuable for those who have been deprived of the basic comforts most of us enjoy every day.
At Public Goods we regularly donate food products to local homeless shelters, but we hadn’t thought of how our personal care items could serve that population. Then our customer support manager connected us with her friend, Julia Pritchett, a dual immersion teacher at Lafayette Elementary in Long Beach, California.
Lafayette Elementary is a Title I school, meaning the vast majority of its students come from low-income families. Pritchett noted that several of the kids in her class live in motels. These children tend to be at high risk for failing classes and often have trouble graduating.
Despite their disadvantages, many of the kids at Lafayette Elementary were willing to dedicate their time and resources to those even less fortunate. Pritchett explained that her students were taking an elective class dedicated to community service.
“They care and are really hardworking,” she said.
To help her fifth graders learn some lessons about charity, Pritchett encouraged them to bring travel-sized toiletries to the Skid Row Carnival of Love, an annual event that provides various services to the homeless population of Los Angeles.
Of her students Pritchett said, “It will help them mature, I think. I’m trying to help them be models for younger kids.”
Several of Pritchett’s peers have asked why she decided to focus on toiletries instead of food.
“It hopefully makes them feel more human.”
“[Homeless people] still want to be clean,” Pritchett said. “It hopefully makes them feel more human.”
Her attitude acknowledges that hunger and thirst don’t necessarily override the desire for cleanliness and dignity. It’s true that food, water and shelter are most important for survival. Nonetheless, homeless people need other forms of support to maintain their sanity and have a chance at regaining a normal life.
In addition to food and beverages, the Skid Row Carnival of Love offers medical treatments, career assistance and showers. On January 26 Pritchett’s students will attend the event and bring bags of personal care products to the shower stations. Her hope is that the experience will allow her class to gain empathy and compassion for those who are usually feared or forgotten.
After we heard her story, we mailed all of the travel-size toiletries in our New York headquarters to Pritchett. Some of our team members brought supplies from home and added them to the shipment. We look forward to participating in the Skid Row Carnival of Love and are happy to — in our own small way — have a positive impact on the homeless population of Los Angeles.
Once Pritchett and her students received our contribution, they expressed gratitude by writing a letter addressed to myself and Public Goods. Here it is:
We wanted to thank you and Public Goods for supporting our cause #project365. By donating shampoos and conditioner, you will not just help us, but you will also help many of our homeless community members in need. These donations mean a lot to us because we know that it will brighten people’s day. Your kindness will not go unnoticed and we will make sure we advertise your products by letting everybody know that you are supporting the Festival of Love through our cause. We appreciate you taking notice of our project, our cause, and our class.
We were touched by you donating this because not a lot of people would go out of their way to donate to fifth-graders. We will keep in touch with you and show you pictures of the kits that we make. We wish you continued success with your company.
Lafayette Elementary School”
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