VICTORIA -- Washing our hands is one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of germs, and a Victoria charity has played a big role during the pandemic by providing soap to people in need.

Soap for Hope Canada partners with hotels across Vancouver Island to recycle soap and other hygiene products to be distributed to shelters, senior centres and food banks across B.C. and Alberta.

“We take all the amenities that they otherwise would have thrown in the garbage and we reprocess them and provide them at no charge to community groups,” said Soap for Hope Canada founder and executive director Anne McIntyre. “We started with six shelters five years ago and now we support over 300.”

Since 2015, the Victoria-based charity has been dedicated to expanding access to essential hygiene items, such as soap and shampoo, to urban and remote communities in need. Soap for Hope has established relationships with 75 hotels in B.C. and Alberta by repurposing the items collected for redistribution.

“We recognized there was a huge amount of product that was going into the garbage that really has use for other people,” said McIntyre. “People need essential hygiene products and sometimes I think it is overlooked.”

As the demand for soap and other products increased during the lockdown at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization rapidly expanded to include deliveries to 80 Indigenous communities in B.C. and Alberta.

“We had about four times as many people reach out to us because we had communities isolating, we had seniors who could not go out and we had families who were suddenly financially insecure,” said McIntyre. “We also had no product coming in because the hotels were shut down. Luckily, we were able to purchase, through generous donations, the product we’ve needed to keep everyone safe.”

Not only has the demand for products increased, but the pandemic has also presented other challenges for the charity.

It has forced the reduction of the number of volunteer staff needed to process and fill orders due to physical distancing protocols. Before COVID-19, as many as 15 volunteers from the community and local service groups would work in the Victoria warehouse sorting the donated products. Now, there are no more than two people permitted in the redistribution facility at one time.

“It really had an effect on how quickly we can process products,” said McIntyre. “We will balance reprocessing product from hotels and the rest we will continue to purchase, so we’ll continue to grow and help people.”

In 2019, the organization repurposed and distributed more than one million items weighing more than 150,000 pounds.

You can visit Soap for Hope Canada’s website for information or to make a donation.