Big changes start small, as Evelyn Browne has discovered over the years. So it's only fitting that the latest project for Browne involves collecting small packages that make a tremendous difference in the lives of recipients.
"The idea for Hope Soap came from the simple reality that my family was accumulating quite a lot of hotel amenities through business and vacation travel," said Browne, who also began the It's Spooky to Be Hungry Food Drive in the 1990s. "Although we frequently brought them home, we didn't seem to use them as often as we thought we would. I had the thought that someone else could benefit from them, and the idea of Hope Soap was begun."
A congregation-wide, yearlong effort to collect personal care items was begun about five years ago at Browne's church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta. Items were distributed at the Masters Table Soup Kitchen each summer.
Until last year, the project had no name. But as collections grew, the project was coined Hope Soap, which is the second project of Big Changes Start Small, the parent organization of It's Spooky to Be Hungry.
"Volunteers sort and pack these items into personal care kits which we then distribute to agencies whose patrons can benefit from them," said Emma Wilson, co-chair of Hope Soap. "These agencies serve women, men and children who are financially needy, homeless or in emergency temporary housing."
Providing the personal care items is a way to help make their stay more comfortable and less expensive, Wilson said.
"Last year, we donated 400 care kits to the Masters Table Soup Kitchen," she said. "We are ready to expand this year by increasing our receiving agencies, increasing the amount of donated goods and increasing the number of volunteers."
A grant from the Junior League of Augusta has allowed for the expansion of Hope Soap. A portion of the grant money has been used to purchase razors and women's sanitary supplies, neither of which are being donated in sufficient amounts to allow for distribution otherwise, Wilson said.
Current collection sites are The Columbia County News-Times, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, Wild Birds Unlimited and Open Door Preschool. Additional businesses will soon set up collection bins.
Golden Harvest Food Bank has donated space where the collected items can be sorted and packed, and a graphic designer has donated her creative talent to make a logo for Hope Soap.
"Once we have the logo, we can increase our visibility in the community," said Wilson, whose mother-in-law, Mary Hattan, of Potter Place, N.H., recently sent a box of items collected by members of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in her city.
"By taking just a few moments to collect and donate travel amenities, cosmetic and toiletry product samples, dental product samples and similar items, people can have a moment of awareness of all they have - a moment of compassion for those who have less and a moment of connection with the good works of others all around them, some of whom are collecting a little bar of soap, just as they are," Browne said."It is easy in our hectic and often disjointed world to feel that one person's efforts don't amount to much. But I believe by building into our daily lives small habits of compassion, connection, gratitude and generosity, we can give ourselves, our families and our communities a real and empowering antidote to apathy and inertia.
"Hope Soap, to me, is not just about providing hope for those in economic need," she added. "Through working together in small positive ways to build a community and make a difference, Hope Soap is equally about providing hope for ourselves and our future."
Hope Soap collection sites:
The Columbia County News-Times: 4272 Washington Road, Suite 3B, Evans Towne Center shopping center, Evans
Wild Birds Unlimited: 3830 Washington Road, West Town Market Square shopping center, Martinez
Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta: 3501 Walton Way, Augusta
Open Door Preschool: 3005 Walton Way, Augusta
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