Needham, Massachusetts (CNN)Food insecurity and homelessness are widely known issues, with thousands of food banks and shelters across the United States working hard to provide assistance.
When Jeff Feingold, a father of two, dropped off donations to a local children’s shelter in 2010, he learned about a lesser-known issue: hygiene insecurity. Many of those in need don’t have access to basic items such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste, which can be expensive — and food stamp benefits cannot be used to purchase them.”The social worker told me that hygiene products were hard to get, and food stamps didn’t cover them,” Feingold said.According to a Feeding America survey, 58% of low-income families reported they had to cut back on food to pay for hygiene products within the previous year. Of those, nearly a quarter did so each month. Read MoreAt the time, Feingold was living in the suburbs, raising his children, and had a successful job in finance.”In our household, I talk about a quote which is, ‘To those who much is given, much is expected,'” Feingold said. “I realized that it was a real big responsibility of mine to give back and also to teach my kids how lucky they are.” So, he started Hope & Comfort, a non-profit that distributes hygiene products to Massachusetts-based organizations — helping to provide necessities that are often costly for non-profits and shelters to obtain for their clients. It began out of his garage, with Feingold purchasing items to donate and his children helping him sort and pack them.”Imagine having to wake up and not being able to brush your teeth,” he said. “That has an enormous effect, of course, on one’s health but one’s self-confidence and one’s dignity.”The organization has since moved into a warehouse and he says it has distributed nearly 3 million hygiene products to more than 200 non-profits.Hope & Comfort partners with organizations statewide that are working with populations facing hygiene insecurity, such as local shelters, food banks and youth services.”There are wonderful organizations that already exist in the basic need space,” Feingold said. “And we do not want to be rewriting the wheel. Our role is really to supercharge the mission of other wonderful non-profits.”CNN Hero Jeff FeingoldIn 2020 alone, he says, his organization donated more than 2 million products. And Feingold is not slowing down — he plans to distribute 2 million more products this year.”This grew in part out of need to tell kids how lucky they are,” Feingold said. “But I’m going to keep working day and night if I have to in order to do as much as I can to end hygiene insecurity.”CNN’s Meg Dunn spoke with Feingold about his work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.CNN: How did your non-profit respond and help during the pandemic? Jeff Feingold: During Covid, we gave out 650,000 bars of soap last year. Without being able to wash your hands, we know that it was very hard if not impossible to stay healthy and clean and safe. If you lack basic access to these products, there is also a real risk to your health.In 2021, we’ve put a target to distribute 2 million items, including more than a million bars of soap. And we’ve said, “Soap for everyone” — for anyone who needs a bar of soap during Covid in Massachusetts, we want to be here for those people to keep them healthy and safe and confident.CNN: Why is it important to you to give a variety of products?Feingold: Whenever we can, we want to make sure we’re giving out the right products. We want to give them the same variety and selection that I would get or my kids would get. We want to go out and be sensitive to, for instance, the hair needs of a particular Black or brown young woman who may have textured hair and who may need a certain type of shampoo. And so the longer we’re at it, we want to make sure that we can work with the right retailers and manufacturers and distributors that can help us increase not only the number of products, but the quality and the variety in the selection.CNN: How does it feel when you think back to how this started? Feingold: Hope & Comfort was started to teach my kids how lucky they are. We had a birthday party where we took donations in lieu of presents. And that small idea has grown to where we are today. We don’t kid ourselves that, at the end of the day, curing a hygiene insecurity is going to fix and make everyone’s lives better. But it is certainly a meaningful part of allowing someone to have a better opportunity, to feel better about themselves.There is a lot to do. I’m inspired and motivated each and every day to think that we can do more. Want to get involved? Check out the Hope & Comfort website and see how to help.To donate to Hope & Comfort via GoFundMe, click here