Deanna Trout wasn’t sure if starting a nonprofit during the pandemic was a good idea. But the need she’d first observed in her community before COVID-19 hit was only getting worse with the economic pressures being felt across the country. “I decided I wanted to help our community,” said Trout. “I thought I’d do my best.”
She founded Community Hygiene Pantry in September 2020 to help address the challenge of hygiene poverty—the inability to afford necessary hygiene products, from shampoo and toothbrushes to toilet paper and laundry detergent. In 2021, the organization received a Turnout Grant from Galesburg Community Foundation to support a more stable presence in Monmouth.
“Community Hygiene Pantry is an example of an individual listening to the needs of their community and then stepping up with an idea for what to do about it,” said Tiffany Springer, Director of Grants and Programs at Galesburg Community Foundation. “We’re proud to support a cause like this.”
First encountering the issue through her participation in Galesburg’s Blessing Boxes initiative, where residents set up and stock small “take what you need, leave what you can” pantries of food and other necessities, Trout’s research into hygiene poverty revealed significant gaps in support for those in need.
“I discovered that there really isn’t any government assistance or much other aid to help,” she said, explaining that public programs like SNAP don’t cover hygiene products. “The lack of support left people having to choose what to pay for each month with their limited funds. Hygiene supplies are usually eliminated from the list of priorities because a roof over your head or food on the table comes first.”
Hygiene poverty affects people of all ages, from children whose caretakers aren’t able to provide all the items they need to older adults on fixed incomes. As a result, the risk for the health effects of inadequate hygiene is broadly spread across the community. So are the mental health risks, including low self-esteem and confidence, which can potentially lead to absenteeism from school or social isolation. Improving access to hygiene items through free pantries also helps relieve financial stress.
“The biggest thing I learned is that this issue has been around for a long time,” said Trout, “and a lot of people have been waiting for help with it.”
Starting off with a cargo trailer parked once a month on the square in Monmouth and at a park in Galesburg, Trout soon realized she would need a more permanent indoor home for her operation. While Community Hygiene Pantry was able to secure a Knox County pantry location in Galesburg at 149 N. Broad Street, finding a counterpart in Warren County required some extra support.
With the help of the Community Foundation Turnout Grant, Community Hygiene Pantry was able to partner with the Jamieson Community Center and its food pantry in Monmouth. “We had to guarantee that we would be able to keep going not just for a couple of months but for the longer run,” said Trout. “The grant was really important because it allowed us to make sure we had the products to supply the Community Center for an extended period of time.”
Made possible through the generosity of donor-advised funds at the Community Foundation, the Turnout Grant set the stage for other gifts from donors later in the year after Trout’s organization experienced an increase in demand for services and needed to provide more hygiene products than anticipated.
“It’s our privilege to help connect donors to the causes they care about in our communities,” said Springer. “Through the Turnout, they’re building relationships.”
Today, Community Hygiene Pantry serves roughly 200 people each month between its two locations. Trout strives to foster an environment where all feel welcome and clients can choose the items they need. “It’s going really well, and we’re seeing a lot of new faces every month,” she said.
Still, funding is an ongoing consideration. “Funding is hard when you’re a new nonprofit,” Trout said. “And there really aren’t many hygiene pantries out there, so it’s hard to find grants that support our kind of organization.”
As she continues to build awareness of hygiene poverty and Community Hygiene Pantry’s unique services, Trout has appreciated the show of support from community members who have donated money to help her place large bulk orders, donated products directly, and even led hygiene product drives.
“Any kind of help you can offer, whether it be money or hygiene items, is so appreciated—not just by me but by everybody who comes to receive items,” she said. “It means more than you know.”