Free hygiene products available at some Toronto library branches through The Personal Care Bank

You can now find personal care items at some Toronto Library buildings after TPL teams up with the Personal Care Bank. Dilshad Burman with how to access this new community service.

By Dilshad Burman

Established in late 2021, The Personal Care Bank’s (TPCB) mission is to provide free hygiene and care products to anyone who may need them.

The idea is a spin off from Community Fridges Toronto — a mutual aid initiative that allows people to take the food they need and also encourages those who can to donate for their neighbours who may be experiencing food insecurity.

“When Community Fridges started and I was kind of involved with them, they reached out and said that they had an issue with where [to] put personal care items, and I thought, ‘okay, I can create something like this,'” explains TPCB founder William Emilio.

The result was cabinets full of products placed in various locations across the city, from which people can take or leave non-food items they need or want to donate.

“On a personal note, I’ve been without these kind of items, so for me it was really something that I wanted, that I needed and I knew that it was difficult to live without, so it was very important to me to create this kind of accessible space for people to get what they need,” he says.

To further their reach Emilio connected with the Toronto Public Library (TPL) to place cabinets at various branches.

“I decided to reach out to the library because they’re already a hub for community. They already have things like access to internet, access to washrooms and all kinds of other programs. So what we wanted to do was to kind of meet the people where they are and add another offering to the library in this context,” he explains.

William Emilio with a personal care bank

The Personal Care Bank Founder William Emilio with the Sanderson branch cabinet. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

As part of a year-long pilot project, personal care banks were installed at three library branches in November last year — the Sanderson Branch in downtown Toronto, the Cedarbrae branch in Scarborough and the Downsview branch in North York.

“It just seemed like these communities were most in need of this kind of initiative,” says Emilio.

“The libraries have always been one of the most safe, accessible and welcoming places for all Torontonians of all walks of life,” says TPL spokesperson Amanda French.

“More and more we are finding that we have become also a great space for different types of services to also be offered within our spaces … so to have the cabinets near library spaces just make sense for us.”

She adds that the care banks help the library support vulnerable people in the community, which is in keeping with their inclusion and equity strategy.

“This is one of the ways we can do that while still respecting their dignity. We know that libraries are really at the heart of their communities [but] we really like the idea that it’s a 24/7 access — it isn’t dependent on library hours,” she says.

The cabinets are stocked with the help of donated products or cash donations — 100 per cent of which are used to buy items for the care banks.

“I think we’ve had almost a hundred thousand products donated just to the library locations, so it’s really kicking off and people are really gravitating towards it,” he adds.

Cabinets contain essential items as well as anything that helps people feel clean, safe and confident.

“Personal care items are so important for not just your physical health, but also your mental health. So we wanted to make sure that we provided the basic needs like soap, shampoo and toothpaste, but also things like first aid items and cosmetics,” says Emilio.

Items that can be donated include:

  • Menstrual products

  • Toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss

  • Shampoo and conditioner

  • Soap, bodywash, and facewash

  • Deodorant

  • Creams and body lotion

  • Shaving cream

  • Nail clippers and tweezers

  • Combs and brushes

  • Q-tips/cotton balls

  • Lip balm

  • Footcare

  • PPE, hand sanitizer, face masks, and wet wipes

  • Naloxone kits

  • Tissues and toilet paper

  • Sunscreen

Emilio explains that only new, unused products are requested. They do not allow razors, detergent pods or any vitamins or other medication due to safety concerns.

A freshly stocked personal care bank

A freshly stocked personal care bank at the Sanderson branch of the Toronto Public Library. CITYNEWS/Dilshad Burman

Along with the three library locations, there are four others located across Toronto, each painted by a different local artist to make it both inviting and spark curiosity.

“It kickstarts the conversation about like, ‘what is this? Why is it here? Why is it needed?’ and in a city like Toronto where we think that these problems don’t exist, it really does create a main focus for it,” says Emilio.

The banks are maintained and stocked entirely by volunteers who regularly clean them, remove any unwanted or dangerous items, and keep an eye on what items need replenishing.

Emilio and French both say the hope is that the program will be expanded to more library branches across the city following the pilot program.

In the mean time, businesses as well as individuals can host a personal care bank on their properties.

Click here to find out how to start a bank of your own and here to find out more about volunteering.

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