- Created on Saturday, 02 August 2008 05:00
- Written by Scott Payton
Old linens provide new comfort for the homeless
It’s “lights out” at the homeless shelter in Atlanta. Silhouetted in the dark, a weary, elderly gentleman lays his head on a pillow for the first time in months. No stranger to life on the street, the comfortable bed and soft, fine linens are a welcome respite from his usual places of slumber.
In the next room, a mother tucks her two children into adjoining beds. Having fled an abusive home environment, the prospect of seeking shelter was almost as frightening as what they had left behind. But here they are safe, and the surroundings are almost inviting. The mother observes that the friendly staff has even made up their three beds in luxurious, matching sheets. A small, but touching gesture that somehow helps bolster the promise of a better tomorrow.
Since 2005, Procter & Gamble’s P&G Professional division, in conjunction with Hotel & Lodging Association chapters and hotels across the country, has sponsored “Mission Start Out Fresh Today”—or Mission S.O.F.T.—a national program that supports homeless shelters by providing donated linens to displaced individuals throughout the United States. Its goal: to enable the children, women and men who use the facilities to experience something the more fortunate take for granted—the feeling of soft, clean sheets.
Launched as a pilot program in Procter & Gamble’s hometown of Cincinnati, Mission S.O.F.T. received an enthusiastic response from its soon-to-be local partners. According to P&G Professional Assistant Brand Manager, Merritt Noble, the first call was to the local chapter of the Hotel & Lodging Association, who put them in touch with the Millennium Hotel. “As one of the larger, premier hotels in town, their willingness to donate linens that would have otherwise been discarded inspired many of their competitors to pitch in as well.”
The Millennium also stepped up to the plate by volunteering to launder all the facilities’ donations and process them for disbursement. “I hate wasting linens,” says Director of Housekeeping, Teri Muran. “Typically bed sheets, bed spreads and towels have a lifespan of up to 18 months. When they stop looking brand new, or the hotel changes its décor, they are tossed away.” Teri leads a staff of 16 who launder all the Cincinnati donations utilizing products provided by P&G. Since Mission S.O.F.T.’s inception, about 6,000 lbs. of donated goods have been laundered quarterly by the Millennium crew. They use five Milner front-loaders (three 200 lb., two-pocket, models and two 75-pounders) and three Milnor 50-pound dryers. No linens are dried, only towels. About 10 sheets per minute pass through the laundry’s Lavatec ironer prior to being shipped to the local shelter.
Once the linens have been cleaned and freshened, they’re packaged in bags and boxes and stacked on loading docks for disbursement to local shelters. Says P&G’s Merritt Noble, recipient facilities must meet some basic criteria. “The core of Procter & Gamble’s charitable efforts centers upon our Live, Learn & Thrive initiative, improving life for children in need, ages 0-13. Therefore all the community and homeless centers we partner with in the Mission S.O.F.T. program must provide services to that demographic as well.”
Mission S.O.F.T.’s launch in Cincinnati proved so successful, it has become a template for similar campaigns in other cities, including Phoenix, home of Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS). Development Manager Katia Brown is the liaison for CASS with Mission S.O.F.T. and has experienced, first-hand, the impact of the program. “We assist, on average, up to 5500 people per year at our two locations. On any given night, we are providing shelter for 400 single adults and 120 family members. That’s the equivalent of a fairly large hotel. So to have clean linens provided for that many individuals is not only an enormous help in and of itself, the resources that these donations free up that can be applied elsewhere is tremendous.”
Currently four hotels in the Phoenix area, Marriott, Embassy Suites, Radisson and Quality Inn, are donating linens to the Mission S.O.F.T. program. And according to Katia Brown, these acts of goodwill do not go unnoticed by their recipients—despite the veil of misfortune. “We’ve had many of our clients here at the shelters say they wanted to express their gratitude –just say “thank you”—for the donated linens.” And while policies differ from agency to agency, CASS allows their guests to take sets of linens with them as they move on to more permanent living situations. And a third lifecycle for goods that might have otherwise been discarded begins.
P&G Professional’s Mission S.O.F.T. program has been replicated in 33 other cities thus far, with a total of nearly 30,000 donations to-date. Given the program’s unqualified success, Merritt Noble anticipates rolling out the campaign in multiple other markets in the months ahead. “Hotels are excited to contribute, the housekeeping staffs that volunteer their services are delighted to help, and it enables the shelters to provide even better care for those in need. It’s a true community effort.”
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