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San Francisco nonprofit's "hygiene bank" helps low-income, unsheltered people across country

Jefferson Award Winner: Meghan Freebeck
Jefferson Award Winner: Meghan Freebeck 03:16

A San Francisco-based nonprofit created by this week's Jefferson Award winner helps low income and unsheltered people stay healthy and feel good about themselves.

Meghan Freebeck and her volunteers got inspired to pack toiletries to give away after she encountered a troubling trend several years ago while heading up San Francisco Suicide Prevention.

"What was so telling to me was that so many people calling in a crisis were not able to meet their very basic needs," she said. 

Freebeck launched Simply the Basics in 2016, a nationwide nonprofit that gives hygiene products for free to people who are low income or unhoused.

The group's so-called "hygiene bank" considers that one size does not fit all: for example, children need different sized-diapers, and people with sensitive teeth need special toothpaste. 

"So it was very clear to us that while we've got this incredible food distribution system in the country where you could get nutritious food and food for different dietary needs, we did not have that for hygiene," Freebeck explained.

Simply the Basics sends the hygiene care items to more than 200 community partners to distribute to the people they serve.

Meghan Freebeck, founder of Simply the Basics. CBS

The San Francisco-based nonprofit also hosts public markets, and individuals can reach out like one woman who called herself "Daja."

She came in to Simply the Basics and got help choosing what she wanted.

"Everybody needs hygiene stuff, basic stuff to take care of themselves. So it's a really good thing," Daja said.

Freebeck said the privately-funded donations fill more than just a physical need. People tell her that taking care of themselves means they can focus on other goals, like sobriety, housing, and relationships.

"Their tooth decay has reduced, which we know leads to heart disease, so we're preventing things like that. All the way to somebody finding employment because they felt confident going into a job for the first time," Freebeck explained. "And some of my favorite stories, truly, are people who say, 'I visited my grandchildren for the first time in months and felt comfortable letting my grandkids climb on me and hug me.'"   

So far, Simply the Basics' hygiene products have reached 200 cities in the US and world.

The nonprofit has also sent hygiene kits to disasters, from California wildfires to emergencies in Honduras and Ukraine.

Volunteer and board member Jillian Knox credits the nonprofit's growth to Freebeck's compassion for others.

"She is an actual superwoman, doing amazing things. She puts her heart in it. You can just tell," Knox said.

"It's really insurmountable what we're able to do, what a person is able to do, when they're able to feel clean and healthy," Freebeck said.

For creating a national hygiene bank for better health, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Meghan Freebeck.

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