Help Me Distribute Personal Care Items With Dignity

While debates rage over people utilizing food stamps to purchase lobster and soda pop, there is little public discussion about the things SNAP can’t buy.

  • Soap
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant

You also cannot buy toilet paper, diapers or laundry detergent. Are any of these luxuries in your household? What would you sacrifice to pay for gas to get to work? Or to buy your child a pair of sneakers at Payless or Wal-Mart?

Personal care items in my bathroom. Are these luxuries?
Personal care items in my bathroom. Are these luxuries?

This has weighed heavy on my mind for nearly two decades. And I am finally able to roll up my sleeves to tackle some piece of the issue.

Today, I am launching a crowdfunding project to establish “Cathy’s Closet”  – a personal care closet similar to a food pantry but focusing on hygiene items. The closet will be housed at Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ Community Center – the GLCC.

You can help with a financial donation via Crowdrise or send a check directly to the GLCC payable to Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh 210 Grant St Pittsburgh, PA 15219 with “Cathy’s Closet” in the notation. Donations are tax-deductible. You can also organize a product drive. We hope to find groups that will commit to one drive annually to keep the closet stocked. Please register your drive here.

Cathy Cairns
Cathy Cairns

I asked to name this project after a departed friend and activist Cathy Cairns for two reasons.

First, her legacy was to give help where it was needed whether consulting on a large housing development project, sending disaster relief donations across the world or taking a walk to homeless encampments near her home. This is such a need.

Second, when Cathy was in hospice in the end stages of pancreatic cancer, hundreds of people donated to grant her final wish – her burial. I hope this is a small way to pay that forward.

There’s important data you should know about poverty in the LGBTQ community.

  • Nearly 30% of us experienced a day of hunger in 2013 – a day when we did not have access to food for our families. Every penny we can help people stretch into their budgets is a way to challenge this ugly truth.
  • Almost one in four children living with a male same-sex couple and 19.2% of children living with a female same-sex couple are in poverty, compared to 12.1% of children living with married different-sex couples.
  • 14.1% of lesbian couples and 7.7% of gay male couples receive food stamps, compared to 6.5% of different-sex married couples. Also, 2.2% of women in same-sex couples receive government cash assistance, compared to .8% of women in different sex couples; 1.2% of men in same-sex couples, compared to .6% of men in different-sex couples, receive cash assistance.
  • Transgender people are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical person in the U.S.

Another concern is treating people with dignity. Imagine having to ask for tampons because you don’t have the cash to stop at the drugstore. Imagine having to ask when you are transitioning or have lost your job or just came out and lost family support. Now imagine going to a space where no one will blink about this.  I’m hopeful we’ll be able to collect gently used tote bags and create experience like shopping so that people visiting Cathy’s Closet can take their items home just like any other shopper would.

The GLCC will distribute items both on-site and through partners like Persad, PATF and Shepherd Wellness Community.

This is one of the most important things I’ve ever started. It would mean the world to me if you would join me.

Personal Care Closet Pittsburgh


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