After learning about the prevalence of youth homelessness in Lanark County and how simple things like shampoo and lotion or toothpaste can make a difference in the life of those experiencing homelessness, Grade 5 and 6 students at Naismith Memorial Public School were inspired to help.
Their teacher, Kelly D’Brox, presented the idea of making hygiene kits to the students, which is an initiative coordinated by the United Way East Ontario. The kits include personal hygiene items such as shampoo, lotion, and toothpaste and are packaged into individual bags. The kits are given to the United Way East Ontario who then distributes them to agencies who work with Youth at risk.
“When you walk down the street here, you don’t see homelessness, and it’s not as obvious as it would be in the city,” says Grade 6 student Olivia MacDonald. “I was surprised that there is homelessness in our area as I had no idea. We knew [the kits] could be a lot of work, but I really like the thought of helping people.”
While D’Brox brought the hygiene kit idea forward, she had one stipulation for her students if they chose to move forward with it: it was up to them to coordinate the project.
And so, the students used their recess and lunch time to plan out the hygiene kit project. From developing an inventory list of items to crafting marketing pieces such as posters and Facebook posts, the students coordinated the project bilingually and divided up the work.
Personalized for gender-specific needs, the students coordinated the items to ensure each kit was full. They asked school families for donated items and received support from local businesses.
“The students had to tackle challenges that arose in the project’s timeline and really took ownership over it all,” says D’Brox, adding that working alongside her English teaching partner Joe Chalmers, they integrated the project into some classroom lessons including financial literacy, language development and social sciences. “There are so many layers to this initiative, and we’re so proud of what the students accomplished.”
The goal was to put together 35 hygiene kits, but the class quickly surpassed that number. As of Oct. 29, they put together 83 hygiene kits, which is approximately $4,000 worth of items. That kit tally will allow the United Way to provide enough kits for all the youth at risk in Lanark County.
“We took it for granted that we had this stuff in our houses all the time,” explains student Maisie O’Keefe. “Now I realize the value of these items, and I’m glad we got to help out.”