News item: Using polling data, a British marketing firm has named Prince William the world’s sexiest bald man for 2023.
I slapped my newspaper down in disgust. “Dammit, silver medal again.” Really, I thought this was finally going to be my year.
Disheartened, I decided to trundle down to Soap for Hope Canada, just to revive my spirits.
This usually does the trick. There’s something restorative about walking through the doors of the Victoria-based non-profit — or, at least, it’s uplifting as long as you focus on the goodness of what they’re doing, not the grimness of the problems being tackled.
For example, on this day volunteers at the charity, tucked away in a nondescript little building on Vic West’s William Street, are preparing to assemble hygiene kits for aging Victorians.
From one point of view, it’s a sad story, reflecting how rough life can be for many B.C. seniors, a quarter of whom live on less than $21,000 a year. “There was a 78 per cent increase in the use of food banks by B.C. seniors in the last five years,” a 2022 report from the province’s senior’s advocate stated.
Many old people can’t afford to maintain homes that are falling down around their ears, the report said, and most don’t have extended health coverage, meaning they’re on the hook for the full cost of dental care, hearing aids, glasses, medical equipment ….
“Seniors with an annual income of $28,000 will be charged $8,800 a year for a 45-minute daily visit of publicly subsidized home support,” read one telling line. Many run out of food money.
Given all that, how many can afford something as basic as hygiene products?
At least, though, more than 800 Victoria-area seniors — 300 more than last year — will have some of the basics of life this Christmas, thanks to Soap for Hope Canada, its supporters and a grant from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.
That’s the Santa’s Workshop element to this story, with the volunteer elves stuffing Ziploc bags with toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, deodorants, lotions and other items that many recipients can no longer afford to buy. There are also personal touches: handwritten Christmas cards from local students, facecloths knitted by local seniors, fancy bars of soap fashioned by a volunteer who, using materials donated by Alberta Natural Products, spent the summer making them in her greenhouse.
The thing is, this is only the tip of the iceberg for Soap for Hope Canada, which now has relationships with hundreds of community organizations — including more than 110 in Victoria — matching donated, repurposed and (as a last resort) purchased hygiene products with areas of need.
It’s a remarkable operation that weds frugality and generosity. Anchoring it all is the relationship with B.C. hotels that, instead of sending half-full and gently used items to the landfill, ship them to the charity.
All those little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and body wash that people leave in their rooms? They go to the William Street warehouse, where volunteers pour them into containers for distribution to those in need. (The Christmas hygiene kits for seniors will include high-end soap, skin lotion, shampoo and conditioner in easy-to-squeeze tubes donated by Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn.) A total of 2.3 million hygiene items and 177,000 linen items flowed to recipients all over B.C. in 2022.
The charity will take anything (mattresses aside) that still has life in it, furniture, half-rolls of toilet paper, bedding. Last week, a Victoria hotel donated 200 garbage cans.
Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees, as well as community facilities throughout Vancouver Island, now use towels, duvets, sheets and pillowcases forwarded by high-end hotels. Seniors who can’t afford to turn on the heat snuggle in donated robes and blankets. Little goes to waste: volunteers tear worn linens into rags that are sold to plumbers and mechanics for $20 a bag.
Unclaimed items from hotel lost-and-founds are sold in Second Hand Hope, a social enterprise in the Vic West building. It’s open 9-4, Monday to Friday.
The hotel-based programs are only the beginning.
One-third of what gets distributed by Soap for Hope Canada is new, thanks in part to other charities and donations from elsewhere.
Someone recently donated a shipping pallet of vitamins that retail for $30 a bottle.
The Calgary-based Tooth Fairy Children’s Foundation sent 7,000 toothbrushes this year. About 4,000 packages of laundry strips are going out, thanks to Tru Earth. Expensive lotion from a dermatologist was like gold to those with old, dry skin.
Soap for Hope Canada’s founder and executive director, C. Anne McIntyre, gets pumped up by how pumped up supporters are when given the opportunity to contribute. “People want to do the right thing, given the chance.”
There’s still so much to do, though. Those hygiene kits go out the door all year long, not just at Christmas. There might be an extra 300 Victoria seniors on the list this year.
Soap for Hope Canada needs help to help them, and the Times Colonist Christmas Fund needs help to help Soap for Hope Canada and the dozens of other community groups that try to brighten the season for your neighbours. That’s the bald truth.
HOW TO DONATE TO THE CHRISTMAS FUND
The page is linked to CanadaHelps, which is open 24 hours and provides an immediate tax receipt.
Or mail a cheque to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.
You can also use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.