by Debbie Griffin
Princeton resident Elizabeth Lekatz says the Stuff We All Need program aims to help neighbors in need to obtain the expensive hygiene-related items that food assistance funds do not buy.
She collects new containers of shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss, tampons, toilet paper, adult diapers, cotton swabs and other items. Lekatz said it began as the basic four items of shampoo, conditioner, soap and deodorant, but a broader need for other items became clear quickly plus the resourceful thinking of those who donate has influenced the distribution.
She holds the distribution 9-10 a.m. the second Saturday of each month in the lower level of Christ Our Light-Princeton, 804 Seventh Ave. S., giving items to anyone who needs the products. Lekatz is excited to have made the program available in Zimmerman two times through the monthly Passing the Bread food distribution, normally held 9 a.m. to noon the second Saturday of the month in the public safety building off County Road 45/128th Street Northwest.
Lekatz said she belonged to the AmeriCorps program, a branch of the bigger Corporation for National Community Service. The federal agency connects citizen volunteers with the various efforts to address such challenges in the nation as poverty, disaster relief, veterans and military families, education, environment and more.
“In the trainings we learned about poverty and it really weighed on my heart,” Lekatz said.
One night in 2008, she lay in bed thinking about poverty and what she might be able to do to help. Aware that food assistance programs didn’t help the needy much with hygiene-related items, she said the phrase “stuff we all need” abruptly popped into her head. The more she thought about it, the more she liked it, plus it formed the short, easy acronym “SWAN.”
A one-woman force with several casual volunteers, she tries to keep the program simple while at the same time incorporating new things. One of the things that kept her thinking about poverty in those nights and “breaks her heart” is how some kids are bullied over hygiene because their family cannot afford basic items.
As the program has become more active in recent years, people have offered supplies of things like tampons and feminine pads, Band-Aids and other necessities that people struggle to afford.
“Those people are out there and I want to reach them,” Lekatz said.
The supply distribution program grew slowly after the late-night idea in 2008. She talked to people she knows and gradually placed signs and a few collection bins around town where businesses and organizations allowed it. Her church arranged for one of its monthly, second collections to support the program. Volunteers help to collect, package, store, arrange and distribute the products, and Lekatz said she could definitely use more help and helpers.
As she seeks ways to both collect more product and serve more people in need, a friend mentioned to her that there is a long-standing food distribution program in Zimmerman. Lekatz was pleased to have an invitation to join Passing the Bread in November and December. She said she admires the process it uses in serving several dozen families each month.
Lekatz said the vision for the grassroots program is to keep it growing because she never imagined how much need exists. She probably serves 20 families each month in Princeton – an unknown total of individuals – and she saw probably 80 families come through the Zimmerman distribution recently.
One of her goals is to find a temperature-controlled place to store the product because things like the shampoo freeze in the current garage-storage space at the church. She’d also like to find a way to serve homebound people and get products to them.
People can donate money through the website and product through the bins around town – at Bremer Bank and Crystal Cabinets for example. People have also given coupons, which are handy. The program has a Facebook page where Lekatz usually posts the schedule and sends a reminder before each monthly distribution; she said there will not be one in Princeton during January. She also has cards printed with all the dates for the year and said she’ll have the 2017 versions available soon. For more information about Stuff We All Need, visit www.g2swan.weebly.com or call 612-834-8532.