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Church hygiene pantry fills gap

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From left, on the stairs, Isiah Pressley, 7, Emily Blaine, 4, and Mimi Leo hand out supplies at First Unitarian.

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A month into its operation, Shirley's Soaps N Such personal hygiene pantry is drawing a crowd.

The pantry at the First Unitarian Church of Toledo, 2210 Collingwood Blvd., opened Sept. 20. By the time the doors opened at 9 a.m. yesterday, about 50 people had lined up to get personal care products ranging from shampoo to toilet paper.

“It's a blessing,” Safona Harris said as she was standing in line outside the church. “The people come out faithfully every weekend.”

She said she doesn't know of anywhere else to get things like soap, toothpaste, and deodorant on a regular basis, although FOCUS and the Salvation Army sometimes have them during the holidays.

“This is every weekend. I don't know any place that does that,” Mrs. Harris said.

The pantry is named for Shirley Solomon, a former member of the church who often went to soup kitchens and food pantries and had little known income.

When she died in 2001, she left the church $12,000.

The church consulted with Ms. Solomon's family and met with community organizations to see what was needed before deciding to open the hygiene pantry, volunteer Mimi Leo, chairman of the church's social justice committee, said.

“It was where people were sliding through the cracks,” she said.

Personal care items are not always available at shelters or food pantries, and can't be bought with food stamps, she said.

Lucas Martin, who hoped to pick up deodorant, shaving cream, and combs, said he was simply not using some items before the pantry opened.

In its first month, the pantry filled 557 orders for 1,279 people, giving out 7,369 products, said the Rev. Gary Blaine, pastor of First Unitarian.

The church asks people to fill out forms and then fills the orders. They also use the forms to see what items are popular, so they know what to buy.

They try to give people what they want, but have to monitor in case they run out, Dr. Blaine said.

All the supplies are kept in a small third-floor room, where shelves hold rows of everything from paper towels to shampoo and boxes are full of detergent and tampons.

Alvin Robinson, Sr., a homeless man who is staying at St. Paul's Community Center, said he came for toothpaste and razors. He can get some items he needs other places, but said different places have different items.

About a dozen volunteers buy supplies early in the week and stock the room on Wednesday evenings, Ms. Leo said.

Some of the people who come to get the items also volunteer, she said. One woman has brought coupons in to cut the church's expenses.

Many of the children who come with their parents volunteer to run the orders and bags up and down two flights of stairs.

A month into its operation, the pantry has spent half the money Ms. Solomon left and is looking for donations.

The pantry received a $1,000 grant from the Unitarian Universalist Association and hopes to raise another $4,000 that the UUA will match.

Running the pantry year-round would cost about $80,000, Dr. Blaine said.

The church hopes that businesses, community groups, and other congregations will donate items or funds.

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