by Sheila Myers
Special to The Leaven
WEA — No one can accuse Teresa Hamilton of Queen of the Holy Rosary Parish here of ignoring God’s call.
A simple request for toilet paper in 2008 inspired the co-owner and vice president of Bob Hamilton Plumbing, Heating and Cooling to create Giving the Basics, a first-of-its-kind charity that provides food pantries with personal care and household products.
“Not one government official in the history of the United States has ever targeted building the core of human dignity by providing these products,” Hamilton said during a recent presentation.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault. The need just slipped through the cracks. But Hamilton is determined to fill that need.
The 2008 request that triggered Hamilton’s journey came from a family friend — a single mom with six children. To her surprise, Hamilton learned government assistance did not cover personal care and household products.
“People can buy Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and pop on food stamps, but they can’t purchase these items,” she said.
Teresa called around and discovered that food pantries didn’t stock the items because they didn’t come with food drives, and pantries used cash donations to buy food.
When needy families can’t afford basic items like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and feminine care products, they go without, making a difficult situation worse.
Hamilton compared this reality to hers. As the mother of 12 and a Catholic, she was naturally moved to action.
A simple system
Once she identified the need, Hamilton created the framework for Giving the Basics (GTB) on a car ride to Louisiana.
“I built this to be very functional,” she said. “It was all going to be done via the Web.”
She taught herself Web design and created the website that serves as the heart of the system, then turned it over to professionals to polish it up. When she completed the website, she filed for 501(c)(3) status. GTB launched in 2011.
Today, the charity helps 32 registered pantries provide personal care and household items — Hamilton calls them “human dignity items” — to 41,000 people on both sides of the state line.
The system has helped Catholic Charities meet its demand for human dignity items.
“These items are very popular,” said Kim Brabits, director of emergency assistance for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “We’ve been able to go directly to their website and order items. [Hamilton] is able to match resources to meet our needs.”
Suppliers deliver sorted products to pantries for free, allowing for quicker distribution to those in need. GTB buys in bulk at wholesale to maximize dollars.
“GTB is a perfect place — where efficiency meets love,” said Hamilton.
Donors can log onto the GTB website and choose to help a specific food pantry, provide products or make a monetary contribution.
GTB has no paid employees. Hamilton credits her volunteers — people like Brian Leitner, Michele Mayer Orpin (of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood), and GTB director of corporate development John Loyd (also of Holy Rosary in Wea) — for getting the word out.
“What impresses me most about our organization is how quickly we have gotten traction,” Loyd said. “This is not only related to the great need for what we do, but it is very much because of Teresa’s spirit, dedication and vision.”
Scratching the surface
GTB is just beginning to address the tremendous need for human dignity products in the metro area.
“The need in Kansas is out of sight,” Hamilton said. “Figure $30 of product for people, and we’ve got 300,000 people on government assistance.”
These people include the working poor, the homeless, the unemployed and senior citizens.
The concept is catching on. Besides state and county officials, people from Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan have expressed interest in implementing the GTB system. Hamilton’s envisions a GTB system in every state.
It’s doable and the rewards are great.
“The neat thing about this is the way the community really can be strengthened at that core of need — how we can lower that violence just by providing these basic products,” she said.
It’s almost as if God has been grooming Hamilton for this moment. As a mother of a large family, she has experience helping people reach their highest potential.
Every day, she prays that she will continue to hear God’s call.
“I want to be a good listener and help those pantries serve people, help people succeed and move forward with their lives,” Hamilton said.
How to help
For information on becoming a corporate sponsor, holding a product drive, making a donation or becoming a volunteer, visit the website at: www.givingthe basics.com, or call (913) 964-3300.