A few years ago, Liz Duggan would frequently travel to conferences for her corporate job. During those events, Duggan collected toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, soap, and other amenities from the hotels. She was not taking them as keepsakes, however. Instead, she would find local homeless shelters and women’s groups to donate these items. It made her feel good helping those who needed that support, but her acts of generosity set the wheels in motion for creating a new venture that addresses and helps groups affected with the lack of these products.
After doing some research, Duggan learned that many of the hygiene products she was donating are not covered by SNAP benefits (food stamps). She then decided to launch Amenity Aid in Warwick in 2013. The non-profit organization’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of vulnerable populations by creating access to essential hygiene products. Amenity Aid works with local shelters, food pantries, schools, and other organizations to provide essential hygiene items. These items include shampoo, conditioner, razors, shaving cream, monthly women’s products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and hand sanitizer.
Duggan juggled her full-time job and the work at Amenity Aid, until finally leaving the corporate world in 2021, becoming the nonprofit’s first official full-time employee. She said that while the initial response to her organization’s cause has been overwhelmingly positive, there is still more work to be done.
“Even when I was donating to local outlets, it was never enough. There was such a large need for so many people, I knew something had to be done…There are people right here in Rhode Island who are going through life events beyond their control. We are here to bridge the widening gap between those in need with the products that I feel are not only a basic need, but a basic right,” she said.
Amenity Aid served nearly 60,000 people in 2022. It also disbursed over 46,500 full-size packages and nearly 7,000 travel-size packages. In 2023, the nonprofit expects to distribute 120,000 full-size packages.
Amenity Aid serves a wide range of vulnerable populations in the State of Rhode Island.
“We help veterans, refugees, immigrants, and all vulnerable populations in the state,” Duggan said. “We also established partnerships with Sojourner House, Amos House, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, Operation Stand Down Rhode Island, Lucy’s Hearth, and other local agencies, to help provide these essential items to them.”
Amenity Aid supports Rhode Islanders of all ages and backgrounds, and makes a concerted effort to create access to provide hygiene essentials resources for the most low-income communities, and those who are marginalized and exploited. This can include, but is not limited to students, low-income residents, victims of violence and trauma, veterans, BIPOC communities, refugees, immigrants, those experiencing mental health issues, those who are unhoused, at-risk LGBTQIA+ individuals, sex workers, and anyone else who cannot afford basic needs.
“We see thousands of individuals come through our doors every year. Being able to provide them with basic hygiene needs is at the foundation of everything we do, and Amenity Aid helps us be able to do that,” said Molly Smith of Amos House.
“The resources that Amenity Aid has provided us have been very helpful for our clients,” said Patricia Rosas of Sojourner House. “The hygiene products we have received have helped our clients who don’t qualify for any benefits, and have no income, as well as the clients moving into our housing units. We have had many clients show up to our Drop-in Center in crisis, asking for services that offer these products. Our clients appreciate all that Amenity Aid has provided us with.”
As with any non-profit endeavor, Amenity Aid relies on the assistance of its volunteers. There are those who help weekly (about two dozen strong), monthly (30 people and counting), and corporate (60 members). It does not stop there, however. Companies and other organizations may host period packing parties or fundraisers to help support the cause.
Collection drives can also help by bringing in bundles of hygiene items needed for the community.
Monetary donations also help support Amenity Aid. A $5 donation would help creates one travel kit. It provides Rhode Islanders the comfort and relief they need when they are worrying about their physical appearance and hygiene health.
Amenity Aid uses an online ordering system for partner agencies to arrange product pickups.
Moving forward, Duggan wants to compile a task force to determine what other toiletries need to be included. Other items that could make a real impact include toilet paper.
Duggan says that while the idea of launching Amenity Aid a decade ago was daunting, she has no regrets.
“I have seen how what we do makes a positive mark on others,” she said. “By giving out the travel packages, which include a half-dozen items, they are making that individual or family’s day a little brighter.”
While Amenity Aid has made great strides in the past 10 years, moved into a larger facility, and hired more employees, there are still opportunities to help. Amenity Aid accepts any hygiene items listed above as well as monetary donations. The nonprofit also holds events throughout the year. The organization’s annual fundraiser will be held in April 2024.
For more information about AmenityAid, please contact Liz Duggan at 401-889-2435 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.