Dumas hotel owner Pritesh Bhakta donated thousands of packages of soap and shampoo to two local non-profit organizations Monday. The charities, Dumas Education and Social Ministries (DESM) and Snack Pack for Kids, will use their existing distribution systems to get the items into the hands of those who need them. "We already have a system in place where we are delivering door to door," said Joe Rivera of Snack Pack for Kids. "It would be easier than having people come to a central location and pick it up. We are going to distribute the items to the folks on our program." Snack Pack for Kids provides meals on weekends for 282 Dumas Independent School District students from 152 families. The DESM, which runs a food pantry that serves as many as 350 individuals from 70 families every Thursday evening from the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church Pastoral Center in Dumas, will distribute the rest.
As of Monday, Moore County had 174 active current cases of COVID-19, one of the highest rates of infection in the state. With hand washing and hygiene one of the main ways of preventing the spread of the virus and more than half of Moore County residents with incomes low enough that they qualify for government food assistance, the need for these hygiene items is great and growing.
Everyone who has stayed in a hotel has seen the small, complimentary packages of soap and shampoo that the hotel staff leaves in the bathroom for customers to use. Normally hotels go through a lot of soap and shampoo as guests come and go, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has cut travel and hotel stays by more than 50 percent. "Our occupancy rate is very low," said Bhakta in the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Dumas where he had just given away several boxes of the items. "This is the worst I have seen in my life. The hotel industry and the hospitality industry in general has taken a huge hit. I don't know when this is going to end." So, when Brenda Elzner, a volunteer in the food pantry and Snack Pack for Kids called and said they were putting together "goodie bags" for those in need and asked if he would be willing to donate, he immediately agreed. "I just hope things get better soon. This affects a lot of different people."
Since the beginning of the health crisis, local non-profit groups have had to scramble to keep up with a growing and changing demand for food, personal protection items, and soaps and disinfectants of all types. Organizations have had to work together and come up with innovative ways to obtain, pay for, and distribute items. Organizations sometimes had restrictions placed on how they operate when they were created that now limits how they can respond to the crisis. Snack Pack for Kids, for example, can only use cash donations to purchase food. Katie Strohmeier of Esprit, a local organization of women that operates a "coat closet" and performs other community service projects, says her group has a way to get around some of these restrictions and regularly works to help keep Snack Pack for Kids, the DESM, the Cactus Nazarene Ministry, and others supplied with items. " People can donate money to Esprit, and we can use it to purchase items. Then we donate those items to other community organizations for distribution. We are not bound by who we can donate to. We are a good place to donate money," she said. Strohmeier was on hand Monday at the Hampton Inn as Rivera and DESM Executive Director Lisa Hatley took possession of the soaps and shampoos.
Strohmeier says there are lots of people working to provide needed items. Esprit and Brenda Elzner recently bought toilet paper for Snack Pack for Kids to give out, as did SPC Office Supply. Dr. Justin Corbin purchased five gallons of hand sanitizer and 400 spray bottles to donate. "It is a big effort," she said. She says she hopes similar cooperative groups "pop up all over the community." "It takes a village," she said. To donate money to Esprit, contact Strohmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.