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Neighbors helping neighbors: New Soap Closet provides hygiene supplies for people in need

Abigail Curtis | BDN
Abigail Curtis | BDN
Children from Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School bring boxes of soap and other hygiene products Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, to the storage area for the Soap Closet, a group that is working to help low-income folks have access to items they need to care for themselves.
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — When several Belfast-area women learned about a year ago that some community residents couldn’t afford soap to wash their clothes or themselves, it didn’t sit well with them — and they were determined to do something about it.

That’s how the Soap Closet came to be, according to the founders, who on Thursday were gearing up to receive a pickup-truck-load of goods from the Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School’s fifth-grade class.

“The need is here, and it’s a great need,” said Debbie Mitchell of Belfast.

They learned that goods including toilet paper, soap, shampoo, laundry soap, toothpaste and dish soap are often in short supply for the population of folks in need who visit the area food pantries. Sometimes schoolchildren get teased because of their hygiene, they said.

“Have you ever thought of brushing your teeth?” Sharron Walsh said, quoting some of the other students. “Have you ever thought of taking a shower?”

So the Soap Closet women decided to do something about the problem, and over the last year have sought grant funding and donations to allow them to shop for essentials. They estimated that they spend about $900 per month at local stores for supplies that get delivered to the Greater Belfast Area Ministerial Food Cupboard, the Northport Food Pantry and the Searsport Congregational-Methodist Food Pantry. The Soap Closet is organized under the auspices of Waldo County Triad, a nonprofit group that serves the county.

There, patrons are able to select items from lists that include new, large bottles of body wash and other nice things. Some of them — such as moisturizers — might be luxury items for the food pantry customers, the women said.

On Thursday, Walsh, Mitchell and other women waited in the slushy falling snow outside St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church for the arrival of a busload of students from Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School. The fifth-graders had to do a social service project, and so during February they gathered donated soaps and other goods for the Soap Closet.

Daniel, a Belfast 10-year-old who helped bring cardboard boxes down the stairs to the church basement, where officials are allowing the ladies to store their hygiene supplies, said that the students had brought boxes into every classroom.

“It feels really good,” the bespectacled boy said.

Melinda Larrabee, a fifth-grade teacher, said the school is proud of the students.

“We are overjoyed how proud we are of them, and how hard they’ve worked on this project,” she said. “And how excited they are to help their community.”

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