It started in a garage 10 years ago, and now, they’re working toward eliminating hygiene insecurity statewide in the midst of a global pandemic.
Needham-based nonprofit Hope & Comfort has given away more than 1.3 million hygiene products so far in 2020, including an estimated 500,000 bars of soap, in an effort to battle hygiene insecurity across the state, according to Jeff Feingold, founder and president of the organization.
“Hand washing is a simple, effective, and critical first line of defense to remove germs from our skin and help prevent a possible transmission or infection from the COVID-19 virus,” Feingold said in a statement. “Yet, as we look at the communities we live, work, and play in, there is an incredible number of individuals who don’t have access to something as simple as soap.”
Hygiene insecurity exists when people don’t have regular access nor can they afford basic hygiene products. Feingold said in a telephone interview Wednesday there’s an estimated 250,000 youth across the state who are hygiene insecure.
“They have to get up in the morning and feel insecure about how they look, smell, or feel, and that has only increased since COVID-19,” he said.
Hope & Comfort sends out hygienic kits to their 100+ partners, which then distributes them to those most in need, Feingold said. The kits include basic supplies such as bars of soap, toothpaste, and deodorant — items that aren’t covered by SNAP benefits — and reach about 50,000 people in Greater Boston.
In order to meet the need for these products for those under 18 in Massachusetts, a total of 15 million products would be needed, Feingold said.
The organization originally had a goal of giving away 1 million products for 2020, Feingold said, but that got bumped up to 1.5 million when the pandemic hit, including 250,000 bars of soap already distributed to the YMCA of Greater Boston, their single largest distribution yet.
“Every day we see youth who visit our centers struggle with many social determinants of health,” James Morton, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston, said in a statement. “Before, and certainly during, the COVID-19 pandemic, having access to basic health and safety items such as soap is critical to enhancing good health, greater peace of mind, and confidence. All of which are essential if young people are to reach their fullest potential.”
In 2018, Hope & Comfort gave 300,000 hygiene products to those in need and in 2019, that number increased to 500,000 — only one-third of the total number of products they plan to give this year.
This all works, Feingold said, due to the “wonderful work” of their partners and volunteers they work with. Before COVID-19, the nonprofit saw approximately 800 volunteers a year, with about half of them under the age of 18.
And they won’t stop, he said, until the work is done.
“We want to put ourselves out of business,” Feingold said. “We want to solve the need.”