From left: Jonah

Teens ‘squeeze’ new opportunities during teachers’ strike

Saanich students spent the first few weeks of September volunteering for Disaster Aid Canada's Soap for Hope program

Sam Laramee squeezes one mini shampoo bottle after another and pokes fun at his mundane, repetitive task.

“It’s this or school, and there’s no school,” says the 14-year-old, laughing.

As Laramee awaits word on an end to the teachers’ strike and the beginning of his student life at Reynolds secondary, the teen is using his free time to volunteer with Disaster Aid’s Soap for Hope program, based out of an Esquimalt warehouse.

On this day, four would-be students are repackaging slightly used soap, shampoo and conditioner – donated from 50 hotels across Vancouver Island – to create hygiene kits that will be shipped as far away as Ghana and Croatia, and as close to home as Rock Bay Landing. The current 13-litre shampoo batch is destined for Thailand.

“It makes me feel good that I can help people in other countries just by squeezing shampoo bottles,” says Maya McIntyre, 11.

Maya’s mother, Anne, is in her fourth month as the executive director of Disaster Aid Canada. Anne has recruited Maya six times already, but is also fielding requests from the community for student volunteers.

“We like to have students come in once a month, but during the strike Maya and a few other have come in each week,” Anne says. “And I just had a call for a group of 10 kids to come in, so I’ve booked them a date. It’s a fabulous response.”

Sam’s 16-year-old brother, Jonah Laramee, also at Reynolds, might not have volunteered if it wasn’t for the strike.

“I’ll probably come back even if school starts. It’s a great cause and it’s great work experience for me,” Jonah says.

Other volunteers include Jim Force, president of the Rotary Club of Oak Bay, who stood in the corner, using a manual mixer to mash partial soap bars into a giant vat.

(Photo inset: Jim Force, president of the Rotary Club of Oak Bay, mulches used hotel soap for repurposing, part of Diasaster Aid Canada’s Soap for Hope initiative.)

The mash is melted,  cooled in trays, cut into roughly edged bars, and stamped with the Disaster Aid logo. Edward Norton would be proud.

Products continue to flow in from hotels, and with Global Handwashing Day looming on Oct. 15, the push is one to prepare and distribute soap products, Anne says.

“One of the challenges is letting people know we have these products, as Soap For Hope only recently started supplying local shelters and outreach organizations,” she says.

“Once we get in touch, the demand stays constant.”

The repurposed hygiene kits can also include a hand-knit facecloth, a personal touch made locally by senior volunteers.

As a charity, Disaster Aid’s greatest cost is shipping the goods to those in need. To donate or to learn more about the organization, visit disasteraid.ca or call 250-595-5974.

reporter@saanichnews.com