Food stamps cannot be used to buy hygiene products, so then what?

Rockland woman saves the world, one roll of toilet paper at a time

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 1:00am

ROCKLAND – Sharon Hobson loves to buy toilet paper. She loves to have rolls and rolls and rolls of it around, but she doesn't suffer from acartohygieiophobia, which is the fear of running out. Nor does she buy it to hoard. People actually give her rolls to help keep her in stock.

Hobson runs, which helps provide persons living in homeless or financially insecure situations with fundamental necessities. Toilet paper would qualify as a fundamental necessity.

According to Hobson, you can't buy toilet paper with food stamps. You can't use food stamps to buy any hygiene product; you can only buy food. And that leaves those in need with a problem.

Hobson works primarily with the Area Interfaith Outreach Food Pantry in Rockland.

"That was my biggest motivation for this," she said. "At AIO, like most food pantries, toilet paper is not a staple that they give away. It was really sad to have to say no to people when I was volunteering there because there was no toilet paper. It just didn't seem right, so I went to them and said how about if I work on toilet paper. They were delighted."

Hobson said at that time if an eight-pack of toilet paper came in, every family would be given a roll of toilet paper until it was gone.

"Right now AIO is seeing 40 to 50 families every day they are open — Monday, Wednesday and Friday," she said. "I decided that if I was going to do this I would try to make it meaningful. My goal was one roll of toilet paper for every member in the family."

Hobson said she wanted it to be something families could rely on when they were thinking about their budget.

Hobson said the average person uses four rolls of toilet paper a month. If you have a family of three, four or five, that effect could be significant.

"I ask people what they paid for the last roll of toilet paper they bought." She said. "Many people cannot answer that question; but people who struggle can. Now I'm very aware of this when I'm in the toilet paper aisle. One day, I saw a man who was there and he was pulling the change out of his pocket and looking at the rolls trying to figure it out."

Hobson said that if one doesn't have an issue with price, one just walks in, says ‘that’s my brand,’ and grabs it off the shelf. It can be an eight-pack or a 12-pack; doesn't matter, But if it does matter, one struggling to count change to spend 95 cents to a $1.25 for just a roll.

Hobson said the effort goes beyond toilet paper, and includes supplying tampons and pads to women, as well.

"When you hear stories about women making choices between feeding their two-year-old and a box of tampons, your gut reaction is that shouldn't be the case," she said. "When we finished the first project, I said let's move on to tampons and pads."

Hobson said since she started her second project she's given out more than 30,000 tampons and pads in two year’s time.

"They come in the same way as toilet paper," she said, "Contributions of products. Some of it comes in as contributions of money we can spend. We break up all the boxes and have a packing party. Men, women, older women, teenagers from the high school, all kinds of people help us package these up and it helps form a connection between them and people in need."

Hobson said over half of the packages go to AIO, but others go specific places so they can cover the most people.

"AIO serves all of Knox County," she said. "The next place we went is area high schools and we work with the school nurse who can supply the access to the products. Oceanside, Camden Hills and Medomak Valley and just last week we started supplying them to the Rockland Public Library. And we keep New Hope For Women supplied."

Hobson said she also gives out hundreds and hundreds of toothbrushes and toothpaste.

She keeps a large storage bin on the front porch of her house at 108 Beech Street in Rockland for people to drop off contributions.

"It's open night and day, 24/7," she said. "Don't be shy about dropping things off. I always welcome them."

Hobson is not shy about asking for donations. She said she loves to go around to different places and groups advocating needs that need to be filled.

She keeps a small collection of unique rolls of toilet paper the come through her house.

"My favorite is he paper wrapped roll that says, ‘who gives a crap,’" she said. "I have a pink roll from France. I try to keep a sample of everything; rolls without cores and all the different wrappings. I try not to let it get out of hand because it does take up space, but I also have a tampon and pad collection."

Hobson said she'll open a package and realize she's never seen one packaged like that before, so it goes into the zip-lock bag. She said the collection also has vintage packaged tampons and toilet paper.

Besides her website, Hobson has an active Facebook page, where she will put out notices of special needs for families. She gets immediate responses and always people are more than willing to help.

"I always wanted to be looking out for others’ basic needs," Hobson said. "I had no idea it would snowball into something like this when I collected those first few rolls of toilet paper."

Hobson said the right now she's giving approximately 1,200 rolls of toilet paper monthly to AIO.

"It's hard for people to envision," she said. "Right now it's just me and my Subaru driving back and forth to AIO three times a week with about 200 rolls of toilet paper. It's daunting, but not really."