As systemic injustices keep millions of Americans in poverty, folks face compounding difficulties. From food insecurity and inaccessible educational opportunities, to medical debt and a worsening housing crisis — people are in need help.
One challenge that might be left out of the conversation is hygiene insecurity: the inability to afford everyday hygiene products.
This could be anything from shampoo or toothpaste, to dish soap, toilet paper, or menstrual products.
And it has a major impact on the health and wellbeing of folks who are already dealing with unjust obstacles in their daily lives.
In fact, being unable to afford hygiene supplies can affect both mental and physical health.
Living with limited income (and therefore being unable to afford basic needs like food or hygiene) is associated with a 275% higher risk of anxiety and a 253% higher risk of depression, according to a 2021 study in BMC Public Health.
A 2016 national survey also found that 67% of people experiencing homelessness reported one or more preventable health conditions and 34% reported that their health made it difficult to keep a job or handle daily living activities. Studies also show that lack of hygiene products can exacerbate chronic conditions.
And this isn’t an uncommon problem.
According to a survey from Feeding America, one in three low-income families found it difficult to afford basic household necessities in the past year — and there are no national public programs that provide support for this specific — yet universal — need.
Nonprofit Simply the Basics is stepping in.
The organization has recently announced its brand new Hygiene Locator map and database. This digital network of hygiene services helps connect people in need of support to organizations in their area that provide necessary hygiene supplies free of charge.
It also helps folks interested in donating supplies in finding a hygiene distributor nearest to them (which helps reduce wasted products — a win-win!)
The Hygiene Locator is searchable by “Find Hygiene Supplies” or “Donate Hygiene Supplies” and lists various nonprofits or community organizations (like community centers, churches, or health departments) with hygiene programs.
Users can also search for specific available hygiene products or see if a facility is ADA-compliant. Those interested in donating can learn more about what supplies an organization may be looking for from donors.
“It can be cumbersome and time consuming to find services that have your specific hygiene needs,” Simply the Basics’ CEO and founder Meghan Freebeck told Good Good Good.
“The Hygiene Locator allows people to search for the items they are looking for, such as diapers or textured hair shampoo, in addition to filtering for parameters such as ADA accessibility of the location, languages spoken, additional services offered, public bathroom availability, hours of service, and more.”
Many organizations or community distributors listed in the database are part of Simply the Basics’ Hygiene Bank Association, which is the first system in the world to establish quality control standards for the distribution of these products.
Additionally, membership in the association helps hygiene distribution banks connect to one another and provide tools in equitably and efficiently getting these items in the hands of people who need them.
These two initiatives at Simply the Basics were created in partnership with the personal care and cleaning brand Method Products, which will support Simply the Basics' quarterly grant program with its line of hygiene products. The grant program aids newly developed and growing hygiene banks across the country with the goal of closing the hygiene gap.
“Simply the Basics has been working since 2016 to make hygiene care equitable and accessible to everyone, regardless of their income or housing status,” Freebeck said in a press release.
“We believe that everyone has a right to their most basic human needs, and hygiene is an essential need for health and wellness.”
Since its inception about seven years ago, Simply the Basics has distributed over 2 million items to people in need across 185 cities. As of June 20,2023, the organization has distributed the following items:
- 413,094 PPE (began tracking in 2020)
- 272,931 dental hygiene items
- 416,293 menstrual hygiene items
- 4,325 healthy food and snack items
- 148,531 infant care items
- 36,942 razors and shaving supplies
- 160,978 shampoo and conditioner
- 384,917 soap/body wash/wipes/deodorant
- 8,535 towels and bedding
- 89,127 socks and undergarments
- 244,202 miscellaneous health and wellness items (like lotion and first aid supplies)
- 111,270 complete hygiene kits in reusable tote bags
These new digital resources will only amplify this reach.
“With access to hygiene, communities become stronger and healthier as a whole,” the Simply the Basics website reads. “We remove the dehumanization of handouts and empower our most underserved community members to have the dignity and benefits that come with good hygiene and choice.”
Hygiene health is public health. Those who have accessed supplies through Simply the Basics’ work know this to be true.
“It feels good to know that there are people and organizations like Simply the Basics that care,” one recipient shared in an annual report. “If not for caring people, I and many others would not have the opportunity to live better lives.”