WSUMC youth starts little free hygiene pantry for underserved

COLUMBIA—Thanks to recent high school graduate Lydia Conte, Washington Street United Methodist Church has opened a “Little Free Hygiene Pantry” in its soup cellar. 

Conte’s idea was to create a pantry of hygiene products most people take for granted and make them available on a day-to-day basis for those less fortunate. For those partaking of the meals served in the soup cellar, her Little Free Hygiene Pantry is now open.

Along with the Rev. Becky Shirley and others at the church, Conte was brainstorming ideas for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. As she looked back on the many service projects she had enjoyed in the past, she realized some of her favorite experiences had been helping in the soup cellar.

“When I was a young girl, I always loved being in the Mary’s Maiden Circle. Filling up bags full of hygiene products for clients of the soup cellar around the holidays was always one of my favorite activities,” Conte said. “I knew I wanted to do something to honor the impact that had on me under the leadership of Mary Lide and Kathy Wright. They taught me how to experience the joy of caring for others.”

Her idea was straightforward: provide hygiene products year-round for those in need. The soup cellar was a perfect outlet to reach this community, so the idea of the pantry was born. A cabinet that was purchased at a thrift store was refurbished and stocked with 10 different kinds of travel-size hygiene products. Now, diners can browse and take what they need on the way out. 

Personal hygiene is so important, not only for physical health but for good mental health. When personal hygiene declines, it can easily lead to self-esteem issues, which are just as dangerous and damaging for adults as for teenagers. 

The soup cellar at Washington Street has been feeding the underserved for more than 40 years. Meals are served weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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