How to do a hygiene kit drive!!

Hint: Start with the Resisterhood Guide!

Hi everybody!

I hope this newsletter finds you doing alright. LOL. I don’t know. Is it even ok to say THAT now?! Whatever, I’ll just start talking about other stuff. I’m sorry this email came out so long after the first one, A) I was feeling a little DOWN the past couple weeks TBH! (I’m fine now!!) And B) it took me a bit to lay this one out because it’s so extensive. Going forward there won’t be as much of a gap. 

So, a question I get a lot is *how* the hygiene kit drives work/what my experience is doing them. First of all, I send this link out a lot so you’ve probably already seen it at this point if you’re reading this, but the best thing you can do is consult the Resisterhood website. CLICK HERE! The first (and second) hygiene kit drive I participated in was through their partnership with SELAH! Mary Kenney and Cat Kim devised this process, so I’m just going to lay out my experience with it because I think hearing about it from personal further demystifies this ultimately very rewarding journey! And I really recommend learning more about ResisterhoodLA and SELAH. They both do amazing work, and Mary and Cat are instrumental in making that work happen. Cat has given me so much advice as I’ve taken this on, and because of her guidance, I’m now going on month four of putting together these builds. Everyone who does this will do it in a different way! 

Below is a photo of me having a complete meltdown on the ground (internally, not to the person on the phone lol) because I accidentally ordered lunch for the wrong time. The person on the phone at the restaurant was accommodating and kind and I think could tell I was kind of going through something.

First thing’s first: figure out who you are going to donate the kits to. For me, it’s been a lot of cold-emailing/IG messaging organizations and just saying: “Hey! I’m making kits. Here’s what in them. Do you want them? Is there anything you see listed that you don’t need, or anything you need that you don’t see listed?” So far, the kits I’ve organized have gone to: SELAH, LA On Cloud 9, LA CAN, Fish of West Valley Food Pantry, Pauly’s Project, and KTown For All. If you have suggestions of where I can send kits (within LA/nearby) let me know!

Then, I fundraise. That’ll determine how many kits you get to make — any amount of kits is helpful in this time, so whatever goal you set is awesome. Using the Resisterhood calculator/spreadsheet, you’ll see that the more kits you make, the cheaper they get. It’s important to note that this shit takes up a lot of space! I am lucky enough to have a garage, but it was surprising to me how much real estate the boxes/materials took up, so keep that in mind when you’re ordering/buying stuff. 

SO - once you know how much you’re able to order/you’ve confirmed with your outreach partners, you can REALLY get going. First off, order everything! Some stuff is going to take longer than you’d expect right now, and some stuff takes like, a DAY to get to you, so I would say ~*~expect the unexpected*~* when it comes to shipping time. Obviously it’s better for it to get there too early than too late, but it’s annoying to have this stuff in your place for too long. So use your judgement, prepare for delays.

GET YOUR VOLUNTEERS! I personally organize the creation of 1000 kits a month. Using this month as an example, I had 23 separate at-home builders participating (I’ll explain what a builder is), 26 people writing notes of encouragement, and a group of 10 people helping to assemble. PLUS three separate locations and several people driving completed kits to their destinations. SO it’s a lot! Now I’ll explain what all those words mean in the context of this build.

Once you order all your materials for the kits, they’re going to come to your house in whatever amount you ordered them. Some things come in groups of 144, some 1000, some 96, it absolutely depends on the item and there is unfortunately no way to really do this in a neat and tidy way. You will almost definitely have leftovers, which I almost always just give to the organizations so I’m not hoarding these essential items (unless there’s so many it’s burdensome for the org. I always ask what they want - sometimes they already have plenty of the item you’re offering and don’t have the space or maybe don’t have the need. Often they will gladly accept, but it’s good to check). I think the recurring theme of all of this that I’ve learned is ask. Ask people what they want, ask people what they need, don’t assume anything. 

SO for me, what’s made the most sense since we are making so many kits each month is to break it down into a few separate phases.

1) The planning/partnering with an org/ordering, which I’ve already discussed! 

Except for: WHAT GOES IN THE KITS?

Again, I followed the guide above. But I did make some changes of my own to accommodate for COVID and other suggestions. So here’s what went into last month’s kits (1000 total): 

Toothpaste, toothbrush, socks, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, toilet paper, granola bar, COVID fact sheet (English and Spanish translation), ear plugs (courtesy of a large donation, I don’t normally include those), face mask (COVID kind not a sheet mask), note of encouragement**, hand sanitizer (if/when you can get it), body wipe, and a comb. In addition to that, I provided 1000 period kits (5 tampons and two pads per bag), after a suggestion to provide these by my friend Anna Seregina. Finally, I just order a bunch of water and deliver that with the kits. I don’t include them in the kits themselves because they make the bags really heavy and the pallets of water work just fine. 

I encourage you, when ordering, to investigate alternative options to the ones provided on the sheet - I almost exclusively use what’s on that sheet but sometimes you can find good deals online especially for socks! I am now an expert in ordering bulk items from restaurant supply companies so I am relieved to announce that I can easily pivot careers to something in that area once the entertainment industry finishes that almost complete task of chewing me up and spitting me out.

ALSO - Notes of Encouragement — what is that?! Great question. It’s a cute little note just wishing the person receiving the kit well. This has been an awesome way for far-away friends and immunocompromised friends to support. It doesn’t have to be a jaw-dropping work of art, it just needs to be made by hand and made with care. That being said, some artists have contributed notes of encouragement and I am… obsessed/want to keep them for myself. For a list of suggested phrases, check out (you guessed it) the Resisterhood Guide. With notes - mail is traveling slowly so get these volunteers early in the process. Since I am doing these drives across several months, I’ve also asked for about ~100 more notes than I need each month because I know that people are going to forget/send them late - best case scenario is that all the notes get there on time and I just have an extra 100 for the following month that I don’t have to worry about (but I have not had a month where this has happened haha. There is *always* someone who forgets).

2) The BACKYARD BUILD: 

Each month, we move all of the items that I’ve ordered into a friends backyard. Eight to ten of us get there at about ten am, and spend the day dividing all of the items into groups of 25. Each person is assigned an item - Greta’s on soap, Joel’s on socks, you get the idea. And they just sit there and take the box of 1000 soaps and divide them into groups of 25 so it’s easy to keep track of how many are going in each take home kit.

We’ve then got 40 IKEA bags* lined up going down the driveway, and as each person counts their items, they just drop their ziplock bags full of freshly counted items into the IKEA bags. Hopefully that makes sense, it’s a little hard to explain - but we’re basically just dividing items so that our TAKE HOME VOLUNTEERS have an easy number for their at-home assembly lines. 

This day is super fun, especially during the time of social distancing when we’re not seeing friends that often. With us, everyone is masked up and it’s all outdoors and everyone is responsible/tested/knows to back out if they’ve come in contact with anyone who has COVID or think they might have. I include a very scary all-caps blurb about COVID safety in every email just to be safe, though I think at this point people get the deal.

*Speaking of IKEA - they are doing this thing right now where they will donate items to charities (or maybe they always do this? Who knows?! Moving on.) if you fill out THIS FORM and partner with a 501c3. I had to send about 20000 emails and fully harassed them on Twitter but it ended up getting me a bunch of free IKEA bags so who knows maybe you can too!? If you just act unhinged enough online, anything is possible. (My new catchphrase!)

3) THE TAKE HOME BUILDS: 

After all of the kits have been made, we have a separate set of volunteers who come to the place where we’ve just done the backyard build. They pick up the IKEA bags from me - again, all in masks and I just hand off the bags to them. They take the bags with all of the pre-packaged items in groups of 25 and do an assembly line to make the kits. They have a week to do this. At the end of that week, they come back to me with, you guessed it, completed hygiene kits! One of everything in each kit unless otherwise specified. It’s awesome!!!

4) THE RETURN/DELIVERY

So! It’s a week after the backyard build, our take home builders have completed their kits. They come to a drop-off site. If I’m lucky and we can do drop-off right with the organization we’re benefitting, we just do drop-off there. If that’s not possible (sometimes they’re too far away for that) I have friends volunteer to drop off kits. I give people an hour to two hour window to drop off the bags, then have a few friends with big cars come. We load up their cars, I give them the address, and they give the kits to the outreach organizations!! 

NOTE: Some people combine the backyard build and the take home build - that’s a benefit of doing less kits, I think. I definitely could not do that with a thousand kits, but it’s something worth considering! 

Then…

5) START ALL OVER AGAIN, BABY!!! (If you want to)

Hopefully that’s at least KIND of clear?! Please reply to me with any questions, I’ll also do a follow-up email with responses to questions if I get enough. I know I’ve said it a million times, but I didn’t come up with this! I’m just replicating the hard work of people who *did*. BUT I know that there’s value in having as many people as possible talking about their experiences with work like this. 

This email is long but I hope it doesn’t intimidate - the point is to just have this be a resource you can look at if you have a burning question, and I tried to answer a lot of the questions that I’ve been asked by friends putting on their own drives. Also, just want to emphasize the most important thing I’ve learned: Ask for help and ask questions. You are not alone doing this! People are so activated right now and it has been beautiful to see just how many people will step up. It’s a lot of work to organize but your friends and your community are here!

I had never organized before doing this. It felt intimidating and like I was definitely going to do something stupid or embarrass myself or fuck up or SOMETHING. But guess what? It’s been… you guessed it, FINE!! If I can do this, you can! Seriously. Any amount of kits is helpful, too. If you make one kit and that’s all you can do, that’s the difference between one unhoused person having a toothbrush or not having a toothbrush. So don’t stress about whether you’re doing enough - if you do ANYTHING, that is fucking awesome. If you do ten million kits, that is awesome. Chances are you will do something in between one and a million and the service partners you work with will be immensely grateful. There is so much need and there are no signs of our government magically starting to care about this so in the meantime, there is a lot we can do as *~regular people~* and neighbors to make our community a little better. No one is ever going to give you permission do take on something like this, but in case you want that, here is me giving you permission! You can and should do this if you want to do it, and I am happy to be a resource to you if you need help along the way!

Also, I just found out that The Great Pottery Throwdown is going on HBO Max and YOU NEED TO WATCH IT. It’s so soothing and lovely and I can’t recommend it enough. Also Stath Lets Flats on HBO Max made me LOL and featured so many funny friends. I guess I’m sponsored by HBO Max??

My goal this week is to exercise every day even if it’s just gentle crap, to take breaks when my body needs them, and to not order Domino’s Pizza for at least two weeks because I am addicted to it and need help.

Sending a lot of love!

Mitra