LOCH ARBOUR, N.J. — Last year, while volunteering at Bradley Food Pantry in Bradley Beach, Stacy Wiener noticed a need for toiletries. When folks donate to pantries and shelters, they tend to donate food. Essentials like soap are in short supply.
So she came up with an idea: Why not donate soap, and do it with a special touch? Putting her longtime crochet hobby to use, she crafted a few hand-sized cotton soap sacks — just big enough to hold a boxed bar of soap and soft enough to double as a washcloth. Then she brought them to the pantry.
“I handed them out and some people put it to their faces and were like, ‘This is so soft. Can we keep this?'” Wiener recalled to the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2EEa5w0). “They were so thrilled that they could keep it. I got into the car after and said, ‘This is it. I’m doing this.'”
Thus began Supporting a Community of Kindness (S.A.C.K), a grassroots movement to provide soap sacks to those in need throughout the shore. With the help of fellow crochet enthusiasts and friends who organized soap drives, she has distributed roughly 3,000 across 50 goodwill centers since the fall of 2016.
“We mostly give out food; toiletries are definitely secondary, but it’s really nice to be able to say, ‘We have some soap,'” said Candice Talleur, manager of Manasquan Food Pantry. “We don’t always have that because people don’t seem to donate that. It’s nice to give out something different, and it’s something people appreciate.”
Now Wiener, a 55-year-old mom who works as a college applications counselor out of her Loch Arbour home, is looking for help as requests pour in.
“So many of the shelters are like, please can you give us more?” she said. “The response has been amazing. That’s why I want this to be so much bigger.”
It takes Wiener 15 minutes to crochet one sack, and she pumps out about 50 per week.
“Small acts of kindness,” she said. “That’s really what I consider this.”
Kathy Logan, who runs a Bayshore-based homeless outreach program called Bridges at the Shore, has handed out more than 150 of them.
“It’s terrific,” Logan said. “It really helps because this is something that’s very personal. They feel they’re getting something special for themselves.”
S.A.C.K. recently branched out to Ocean County through HAVEN/Beat the Streets. The nonprofit’s director of outreach, Paul Hulse, distributes them at warming centers in Lakewood and Toms River.
“It’s really worked out well,” Hulse said. “Toiletries are not covered by food stamps, so it’s another key piece that helps out tremendously with what we’re trying to do, especially with the warming centers. It came at the perfect time.”
Wiener’s home is a testament to her project. There are large plastic tubs filled with soap in the basement and dozens of yarn balls in the closet. She’s putting out a call for helpers: Send her sacks and/or soap, and she’ll make sure they reach the shelters and pantries.
“I can give out the (crochet) pattern and information on how to organize a soap drive,” she said. “Soap drives are easy. Everybody could grab some soap they have in their house.” …
… “After donating these, I get an absolute thrill,” Wiener said. “It’s a small contribution that makes such an impact.”
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com