Larry McGifford from Rotary Club of Port Alberni-Arrowsmith pauses from hanging art banners in May 2020 to talk about the work Soap for Hope Canada is doing to help people in the Alberni Valley. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Larry McGifford from Rotary Club of Port Alberni-Arrowsmith pauses from hanging art banners in May 2020 to talk about the work Soap for Hope Canada is doing to help people in the Alberni Valley. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Bringing hope to Port Alberni with soap

Victoria organization takes hotel recycling to a new level while helping with hygiene

The novel coronavirus pandemic has brought a renewed focus on cleanliness and hygiene. Toilet paper hysteria aside, the pandemic created challenges for low-income people or those experiencing homelessness, who cannot afford to buy more products.

That’s where Soap for Hope Canada has stepped in. The Victoria-based organization supplies hygiene products to shelters and other aid organizations in communities across the country, including Port Alberni. It relies on volunteers to help get the product to clients. In Port Alberni, Larry McGifford from the Rotary Club of Port Alberni–Arrowsmith leads the charge.

“It is because of people like Larry McGifford, and (Rotary Club of Port Alberni-Arrowsmith), that we are able to expand those we help,” Soap for Hope Canada founder and director Anne McIntyre said.

“His truck is loaded every single month. We’re up to 13 different places in Port Alberni that we’re supporting right now,” she said.

McGifford heads to Tofino every month to pick up leftover soap and shampoo products from half a dozen resorts and hotels, and brings them to Soap for Hope’s warehouse in Victoria. Then he refills his truck with sanitized and refilled goods to distribute to 13 organizations in Port Alberni.

McGifford became involved after a Soap for Hope representative gave a presentation on the program at a Rotary meeting. He has been making the trip to the west coast monthly for the past couple of years.

McIntyre said she has built Soap for Hope by giving back in the communities where volunteers collect from hotels. There aren’t any Port Alberni hotels signed up for collection yet, but McIntyre hopes some will eventually come on board. “Because of the generosity of the (Arrowsmith) Rotary Club, we’ve said whatever Port Alberni needs we will support.”

While Soap for Hope will provide one-time aid to any shelter in an emergency, McIntyre prefers to develop a relationship with each shelter “and let them know they can rely on us.”

Those receiving assistance from Soap for Hope include the ADSS Breakfast Club, Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS), Canadian Mental Health Association, INEO Employment Services, Jericho Road Mobile Outreach, Kuu-us Crisis Line Society, Port Alberni Friendship Center, Port Alberni RCMP, Rotary Club of Port Alberni-Arrowsmith, Port Alberni Shelter Society, Second Chance for Men, Salvation Army and Teechuktl Mental Health.

The number of organizations needing help in the Alberni Valley increased exponentially in the past year. The community’s situation is not unique, said McIntyre.

“With COVID we doubled last year with the number of our support. Then our hotels all shut down.” And the number of volunteers able to put in shifts at the warehouse “went down to zero. It’s been a huge shift for us.”

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