How To Steal Soap Like A Boss (And Do It For A Good Cause)

Published on The Vocal, September 2015

There’s a story in my family that on one of their many retirement-period travels, my Grandma’s habit of stealing the hotel toiletries escalated to an attempt at nicking the sheets and towels. Grandpa had to hold her back, not just to stop her committing an actual crime, but because they couldn’t fit all that crap in their luggage.

Gran might have taken it to extremes, but it still feels like a cheeky thrill to pocket the tiny toiletries provided in hotels. I don’t travel often but when I do I have to remind myself that yes, I’m allowed to keep the soap; yes, it’s covered by the room charge. So I leave the tiny packages sealed and sling them in my suitcase, instead using the products I brought with me from home.

Little soaps and miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner are standard, but sometimes you get lucky with something extra like a shower cap or body lotion. Not that I use any of it when I get back – everything gets shoved in the bathroom cupboard, along with the sample sachets peeled from magazine pages and the bath and body gift sets that have never been opened.

Six years ago Kate Austin had one of those brainwave moments that only happen in the shower. Washing her hair with a hotel shampoo, she thought of all the people like me hoarding stashes of stolen toiletries. What if she ran a collection drive and redistributed the spoils to people in need? Her charity, Pinchapoo, was born.

Since then Pinchapoo, which Kate runs alongside her husband Dean, has been encouraging toiletry theft via social media and partnering with organisations like the Salvation Army, Vincent Care and Wesley Mission to get bathroom essentials to those who need them. Pamper packs have made their way to bushfire and flood victims, women in prison, the homeless, women escaping domestic abuse, and parents of terminally ill kids. The donations bring relief and a sense of dignity to people in times of hardship.

With places like homeless and domestic violence shelters, drop-in centres and prisons having to stretch every funding dollar to the limit, hygiene needs are often low on the list of priorities. “Things are so tight in those organisations, and that’s why what we do is so important,” says Kate. Some drop-in centres for people sleeping rough see two or three hundred people a day come in to grab single use products, like hotel shampoo.

Kate knows from experience what a difference a bit of personal care can make in a moment of crisis. “I didn’t have a fantastic time growing up, and I had to leave my home very quickly one night in a state of emergency,” she says.

“The only thing I could think of to take with me was my toothbrush. That’s what I knew was going to make me feel better at the other end. That’s what fuels what I do on a daily basis – being able to impact lives in that moment, because I know what it feels like.”

So far Pinchapoo has distributed nearly half a million products and helps around 25,000 people a year. This is even more impressive when you consider that 100% of donations to date have come from members of the public. Their supporters – also known as the Poo Army – might donate a few small items here and there, right up to organising big collection drives at work or through social media. It’s grassroots activism at its best.

As Pinchapoo’s profile has grown, more and more organisations have come forward to ask for help. Kate and her team have been careful to only make commitments when they know they’ll be able to fill demands on an ongoing basis. This means the charity has been able to grow sustainably and avoid leaving anyone in the lurch.

They also work hard to make sure organisations get exactly what they need, not just a pile of random crap that no one can use. Men need shaving supplies, women need menstrual products, stressed out families need a bit of pampering, and teenagers at risk need confidence-boosting body sprays and lip gloss. They even work with the strict rules (“there’s pretty stringent packaging guidelines, obviously no razors”) involved in getting products through to incarcerated women that go beyond the prison-issue soap.

“They have very, very limited access to that type of stuff, so we do little morale packs for them that they use day to day – hand creams, non-essentials that we don’t otherwise have a home for,” Kate says. “Ultimately there’s a place for everything, and it really lifts the spirits of the women and aids their rehabilitation.”

My Grandma might have had a cupboard full of unused bathroom bits, but she would have donated them in a heartbeat to lend a helping hand. And you don’t need to be a frequent flyer – there are lots of ways to join the Poo Army.

Take action

Clean out your bathroom cabinet. Unopened bottles and packets only please! Pinchapoo can’t distribute half-used items for hygiene reasons.

Add something extra to your grocery shopping. Another deodorant or shampoo won’t break the budget. Any size is fine, not just minis!

Organise a drive. Gather your friends or coworkers for a ‘poo party where everyone brings a donation

Set up a collection point. Grab some signage from the Pinchapoo website and set up a drop-off bin at work, school, or even your local gym (ask first, of course!).

Sign up as a regional coordinator. Volunteers are needed in various locations to help gather donations and get them to headquarters.

Volunteer as a poo packer. From time to time, Pinchapoo needs people to help sort and seal pamper packs for distribution.

Give money! Pinchapoo also accepts cash donations to help with admin costs.

And when you do hit the road, remember that stealing the soap is not a crime! Always pocket the ‘poo.

 Photo by  Andrew Wulf  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash