In any given month, the Beacon of Hope Sharing Shop distributes 50 or more toiletry bags to the Vestal community of South Knoxville.
The need of this community rapidly increased as the COVID-19 pandemic caused food shortages and personal hygiene and toiletry items became more expensive. Beacon of Hope Director Dona McConnell says she’s gotten calls daily, all for items that most of us have in our pantries.
“‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if you don’t have this stuff,’” McConnell remembers hearing from a community member. “I think (the shortage) made us all appreciate the little things.”
Those little things make a big impact in the community Beacon of Hope serves. COVID-19 has limited the use of the Sharing Shop; in the past, visitors could come into the building to collect toiletries. Now, McConnell has served the community on a needs basis, and her volunteers have included a toiletry bag in each Food Co-Op box as supplies allow.
“It has been a lifesaver,” McConnell says. “It means a lot to people. Much more than clothing.”
In the Vestal community, most residents work minimum wage jobs, and once rent, utilities, gas and other large monthly expenses are covered, it can be hard to feed yourself or a family. Some, McConnell says, can’t afford to pay the $3 to join the Food Co-Op.
“If you don’t have $3, you’re not going to spend the last of it on toiletries like laundry detergent,” McConnell says.
Each toiletry bag includes personal hygiene staples: shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap and tampons and pads (upon request). In addition to toiletry bags, McConnell has shared paper towels, wipes and other cleaning supplies as they come available.
McConnell says that toilet paper is one of the most requested items, a demand that has only increased since shortages began earlier this year. Laundry detergent is an underrecognized need. In the past, Beacon of Hope volunteers have partnered with Church Street’s youth and children’s ministries to make large quantities of laundry detergent at a lower cost. With the pandemic, gathering to make detergent has not been possible, causing a further shortage of supplies.
“It’s something most people have in the closet,” McConnell says. “It’s just something you don’t think about.”
If you’d like to donate toiletries or food items to Beacon of Hope, please contact Dona McConnell at 599-5047 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To give financially to Beacon of Hope, click here.