Jeff Feingold founded the community-based organization Hope & Comfort to raise awareness about and solve the challenge of hygiene insecurity.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 31, 2021. It has since been updated.
In 2010, a father of two Jeff Feingold dropped off donations to a local children's shelter. This is when he learned about the lesser-known issue of hygiene insecurity. While the challenges of food insecurity and homelessness are well-documented, the lack of access to basic hygiene supplies such as shampoo, soap, and toothpaste (which can be expensive) is not as widely known. Unlike food banks for those experiencing food insecurity and shelters for the homeless, no institutions exist to address hygiene insecurity. Most notably, food stamp benefits cannot be used to purchase these items. Therefore, Feingold decided to launch Hope & Comfort, a non-profit that distributes hygiene products to community-based organizations in the state of Massachusetts, CNN reports.
In an interview with the news outlet, Feingold said about his first visit to the local children's shelter, "The social worker told me that hygiene products were hard to get, and food stamps didn't cover them." At the time, the good samaritan was living in the suburbs, raising his children, and had a successful job in finance. His interaction with the social worker inspired him to give back. "In our household, I talk about a quote which is, 'To those who much is given, much is expected,'" he shared. "I realized that it was a real big responsibility of mine to give back and also to teach my kids how lucky they are."
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Thus, Feingold founded Hope & Comfort to provide hygiene essentials that are typically too expensive for other non-profits and shelters to obtain for their beneficiaries. At first, the father of two worked out of his garage, purchasing products and working with his children to sort and pack them. He explained, "Imagine having to wake up and not being able to brush your teeth. That has an enormous effect, of course, on one's health but one's self-confidence and one's dignity." Now, Hope & Comfort has moved into a warehouse. To date, the organization has distributed nearly 3 million hygiene products to more than 200 non-profits—2 million in 2020 alone.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hope & Comfort gave out 650,000 bars of soap. This was particularly important in order to curb the spread of the disease. Furthermore, it is also important to Feingold that the organization distributes a variety of products. He stated, "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."
Feingold's initiative has partnered with organizations across Massachusetts. "There are wonderful organizations that already exist in the basic need space," he noted of the local shelters, food banks, and youth services he works with. "And we do not want to be rewriting the wheel. Our role is really to supercharge the mission of other wonderful non-profits." This year, he hopes to distribute 2 million more products. "This grew in part out of [the] need to tell kids how lucky they are," he said. "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 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. 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." If you are interested in supporting Hope & Comfort, you can check out their website here.