Hygiene Free Store sets up shop on the westside

By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle
A Step in the Right Direction, a local non-profit organization which provides a variety of resources to the underserved population on the westside, is ready to launch a new initiative called The Hygiene Free Store. Beginning on March 1, individuals and families who live in four specific zip codes – 43222, 43223, 43204, and 43228 – will be able to request up to five personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies that are currently in stock free of charge, regardless of income. According to Kayla Davis, the executive director of the non-profit, community partners and generous donors have purchased hundreds of items ranging from body wash, condoms, dish soap, detergent, deodorant, menstrual products, multi-purpose cleaner, toilet paper and toothbrushes and toothpaste that will be used to serve more than 40 families and individuals for the next several months. “We are so excited to start this new project because we know there is such a need for it,” said Davis, pictured here at right showcasing a few of the items with friend and volunteer Shyla Jackson.
Shyla Jackson reorganizes the products on the shelves. When individuals or families request the five personal hygiene items or cleaning supplies, they can also request three substitute items including, but not limited to, clothing apparel such as socks and underwear or medical products such as fentanyl test strips or Narcan.

As a child growing up in a single parent household, Kayla Davis could only watch as her mother was forced to make difficult choices between paying the monthly utilities or providing the essentials for her children when her finances could not be stretched further.

Even with the assistance of federal housing programs and supplemental food programs, it was a constant battle for the family of six to stay afloat, let alone get ahead, financially.

“She would always try but sometimes it came down to whether she would be able to pay off this bill and still have enough left over to provide us all with food to eat, and other times it came down to whether she could afford to buy us hygiene products or if she would have to use those extra dollars to be able to pay the water bill,” said Davis.

Although she said she often felt a sense of helplessness as she witnessed her mother have to make these heartbreaking decisions for her family, it instilled within her a determination to take steps to improve the lives of those who may be in a similar situation.

“It is really unfortunate that there are so many people out there that have to make those choices, that have to sit down with their families and explain that they may have to go without something that is essential and needed because you cannot afford it at the time,” she said.

In her effort to make a positive impact on the community, the westside native and 2010 graduate of Franklin Heights High School founded a non-profit organization four years ago that was designed to help individuals who had experienced homelessness, served time in prison, or were recovering from addiction with reentry into society. In addition to providing housing assistance resources or workforce placement opportunities for these individuals, A Step in the Right Direction also was able to establish a number of summer-time festivities for children that also served as a link to community resources for their parents and guardians.

“Those events had quite a few different purposes,” said Davis. “Not only did it provide kids and their families with quality bonding time in a safe environment, but it also allowed us to ask our community what their needs are and how they felt we could best serve them.”

The feedback that was received recently prompted the local non-profit to establish three new pillars to address the needs of the under served on the westside. Those pillars are workforce development, family engagement, and health disparities.

According to Davis, the workforce development pillar will establish additional outreach fairs for the community to find well-paying jobs and opportunities in the region; the family engagement pillar will be designed to build and uplift the community through activities and events; and the health disparity pillar will aim to close those gaps through a variety of initiatives.

While the non-profit organization is still working to strengthen its first two pillars before they are officially unveiled to the public, the third pillar is finally ready to “set up shop” with the Hygiene Free Store.

“I am so excited for this initiative to launch because I believe there is a real need for this service within our community,” said Davis.

For the past several months, Davis and the non-profit volunteer army have teamed up with a host of community partners such as Action for Children, CareSource, the Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone and the Period Pantry Project and generous donors throughout central Ohio to purchase and collect personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies to serve individuals and households who live in these four area codes – 43204, 43222, 43223, and 43228.

“The items in our Hygiene Free Store will be offered free of charge and there is no income threshold,” said Davis. “Anyone who ever finds themselves in need is welcome to request items.”

Starting on March 1, interested parties will be able to request up to five personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies along with three substitution items through A Step in the Right Direction’s Facebook page, website, or business number. Due to the fact that the Hygiene Free Store is not an actual storefront at this time, individuals and households will have to schedule a pick-up time at the Hilltop Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 511 S. Hague Ave., on and after March 25. In the event of an emergency, clients are asked to reach out to the non-profit’s representatives for assistance.

“We are here to try to make life a little easier for people who may be struggling with some things in their lives,” said Davis. “We want to be able to be there for them and to do that we have to have flexibility with their situation or ability to acquire transportation to get these essentials they need.”

There are currently hundreds of items in stock at the Hygiene Free Store. They include bars of soap and body wash; deodorant; dish soap; detergent; menstrual products; multi-purpose cleaners; toilet paper; toothbrushes and toothpaste; and trash bags. The Hygiene Free Store also has a few medical supplies on hand such as condoms, face masks, fentanyl test strips and Narcan, and there is also a limited supply of clothing items for those who are in need of socks and underwear.

Davis said the store’s current stock of items should be able to serve at least 50 individuals and/or households for the next three months. If donations keep arriving to replenish the store, Davis estimates they will be able to assist more than 400 individuals and families living on the westside by the end of the year.

“Our ultimate goal is to expand into other communities outside of these four zip codes so we can continue to provide these essential items to other under served populations but we will have to see how this takes off,” she said.

Davis said she is hopeful that the community will respond favorably to A Step in the Right Direction’s new initiative to close the gap on health disparities.

“I know that it can be really hard to ask for help, but I just want people to know that we are out here to try to break down some of the burdens so people in the community do not have to decide whether to pay a bill or feed their family or buy hygiene products or cleaning items,” she said. “We’re here to say ‘Hey, we will take that off your plate so you can just go ahead and feed your family. You do not have to decide between this, that, or the other right now.’”

To make a request for personal hygiene products, household cleaning supplies, or any of the medical supplies or clothing items at the Hygiene Free Store, visit A Step in the Right Direction’s Facebook page or their website at www.intherightdirection.org to fill out a form. Inquiries can also be made to the non-profit’s business number, 614-254-0046. If you are a client of Action for Children or the Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone, requests for items can be made on your behalf. If you are interested in donating items or contributing monetarily to the Hygiene Free Store, call 614-245-0046 or reach out via Facebook or the website.

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