In 2009, I saw an online conversation where someone suggested a nice thing you could do, so I thought I would give it a go. Several years on, I have done this thing every year, and I reckon more people could give it a go.
In short, I collect toiletries for a local women’s refuge. It’s really easy, it doesn’t take a vast amount of time or effort, plus you can help a charity and those in need, without troubling your dusty wallet or anyone else’s.
What’s a refuge?
Refuges provide housing and support to women, including those fleeing domestic violence, women who have been trafficked and mothers leaving prison. Refuges can range in their specific aims, but they mainly want to help women in need.
If someone flees to a refuge, often the last thing on their mind is picking up their toothbrush, tampons or mascara. They just need to get out quickly. Toiletries donated to a refuge can be used to make starter packs for new residents, or to provide a gift at Christmas.
Let’s be honest, loads of people have a surplus of toiletries lying around, thanks to unwanted presents, supermarket multibuys, Boots point splurges or beauty box subscriptions. If you don’t, then your partner does, or your Mum does, or your housemate does. I don’t want to be General McGeneralising, but I can say with some certainty that you know loads of people who have loads of toiletries. The nice thing is that people get to declutter and offload a few toiletries and someone else gets to benefit.
How do you do it?
As I embark on the seventh year of collecting for my local refuge, here’s a step-by-step guide to doing your own collection with a few things I’ve learned along the way…
Step 1. Find a refuge local to you
There are lots of refuges out there, but for obvious reasons they usually fly under the radar – you might not know they even exist. Contact details are easily available online, even though addresses aren’t. Women’s Aid has a big list.
Step 2. Call your local refuge
Firstly, do be mindful of your approach, especially if you’re a man. Once you get in contact, spell out what you’d like to do, and if they’re down with it, find out what they need donating.
Do consider what you can feasibly collect, carry and store. I stick to toiletries as I don’t have masses of space at home and the refuge are cool with that. Just work with them to make sure you’re not collecting stuff they don’t want.
While you’re on the phone, arrange how you plan to get the donations to the refuge staff. They might offer to pick up what you collect, or you might have to drop off the donations yourself. Best to know upfront so everyone’s on the same page.
Step 3. Spread the word
Email your colleagues, friends, family, neighbours and post on social media to say that you’re collecting toiletries. Make sure you lay out any stipulations carefully – specify that you’re only collecting unused toiletries, for example. You could also list examples of things you’re collecting, as there’s always someone who timidly emails asking “I have a box of unused tampons if that’s ok?” (My answer? BRING ON THE TAMPONS.)
Also, set a deadline for the end of your collection, or you’ll be handed donations all year round. Remind people when the deadline is approaching.
Step 4. Involve the locals
In the last couple of years, I’ve posted on a local Facebook page to get donations. After one post, a local cafe offered to be a drop-off point. This was a godsend because I found it tricky to arrange collecting donations in my area, as I work office hours. If you have a community-minded cafe, shop or group, give them a tinkle to see if they want to get involved. As a bonus for them, they get more footfall to their business too.
Step 5. Collect the donations
The key here is “little and often” so you don’t slip a disc – you’ll probably be surprised by how much is donated and toiletries actually weigh LOADS. Imagine a Tesco bag rammed full of makeup – it’s pretty bloody hefty. This is why it’s a good idea to spread your collecting out over a few months – I usually do it between September/October and December. I would leave a cardboard box by my desk at work, then carry one bag of donations back to my flat each night, but whatever works really. If you’ve got a lot to carry, make use of a rucksack, wheeled suitcase or a Bag For Life. (Or gently bribe a strong mate with a pint.)
Step 6. Sort it out
Before you’re due to give your donations to the refuge, give the toiletries a bit of a tidy. You’ll find that the definition of “unused” varies, so throw out anything which looks old or skanky. People’s hearts are definitely in the right place, but I’ve found the odd shocker. Put it this way – if you wouldn’t use it yourself, bin it. Keep a cloth handy to wipe down anything which looks a bit dusty. I also sort donations into rough categories (gift sets, perfumes, soaps, moisturisers, makeup and so on), but you don’t have to. Then bag it all up again, ready to donate.
Step 7. Get it to the refuge
Arrange a time and date for them to pick up donations, or for you to drop the donations somewhere – you might need to enlist a mate or neighbour with a car.
And that’s it really.
Here’s what was collected for my local refuge last year:
Now, I know that sounds like a lot of work, but really it’s lots of little bits of effort spread out over a few months. Trust me, I am lazy and I still do it year after year. It’s a great way to do something nice to help people and you don’t have to run a marathon, bake a cake or sit in a bath of baked beans.
If you live in Central or SW London and would like to donate to the collection this year, tweet me @Llia and let’s see if we can sort something out. Or start your own collection – someone will be grateful that you thought of them.