The start of the school year is here and community programs have collected thousands of donations to give students paper, pencils, backpacks, and all the tools for success. However, one Auburn mom asks — what about the hygiene needs some students can be too embarrassed to ask for?
“I’ve driven by bus stops or heard my children’s classmates say, oh I can’t go to swim class because I don’t have enough shampoo or conditioner to wash my hair, or I can’t go to gym because I’ll sweat a lot and I don’t have deodorant,” says Denise Lee.
She adds as a mom of 10, she’s experienced fist hand the struggle to provide for all the necessities of life.
“I felt cornered, I felt trapped. I felt hopeless as a mother not being able to give my kids everything for school myself,” Denise says to News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“It does take a whole village to raise a child. It took a whole world to raise all of mine, and it meant so much to me when people supported us when we didn’t have a lot. Now I want to give back,” she goes on to say.
Denise says she plans to initiate a hygiene donation program, Minnie’s Hygiene Bags for Kids, to distribute needed items like shampoo, soap, deodorant, and feminine products across Lee County, as well as Auburn and Opelika city schools. She even hopes in the long run, she can extend as far as Muscogee County and parts of Georgia.
She says the program is named for her daughter, Minnie Lee, who was tragically murdered in January 2017.
“Minnie meant the world to me and she was taken at a very early age from me and I just wanted to do something in her memory so her three daughters would know that their mom meant a whole lot and can touch a whole lot of people, even without her being here physically,” Denise says.
She adds seeing students just like her granddaughters be bullied for the way they look — or worse, the way they smell — drives her to ease the struggles for them and their parents.
“If we can give them any little thing to ease their minds, so they can focus on school and not worry about these things, then you would see a big difference in their attendance and performance,” she says.
Denise plans to reach out to the school districts as well as consult with established non-profits like United Way. She hopes her program can turn from an idea in her living room to a vital part of the community.
United Way of Lee County representatives say although they have not yet connected with Minnie’s Hygiene Bags for Kids, their own ongoing efforts to provide back-to-school supplies has the same heart — giving students all the tools to succeed.
“It’s important on every level for a child to feel confident when they’re going to school. So whether that’s having the proper hygiene products or having the tools to succeed, I think it goes a long way,” says United Way Community Initiatives Coordinator Chandler Williams.
“If we can get one bag out, and change one child’s life with a better attendance or a better learning process than they’re having in school, that would mean the world to me. Even if we just reach one,” Denise says.