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Banking on KC – Teresa Hamilton of Giving the Basics

Banking on KC – Teresa Hamilton of Giving the Basics

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Teresa Hamilton, the founder of Giving The Basics. Welcome Teresa.

Teresa Hamilton:

Thank you for having me, great to be on.

Kelly Scanlon:

Teresa, you founded Giving The Basics 10 years ago in 2011. So first, congratulations on that 10 year anniversary.

Teresa Hamilton:

It is. It's crazy to see how fast it's gone. It never got old, so that's the best part.

Kelly Scanlon:

What did you see 10 years ago that prompted you to found Giving The Basics? Tell us that story.

Teresa Hamilton:

Okay, 11 years ago I received a phone call from a friend who needed help buying toilet paper. It was such a strange phone call, because she had lived a very fabulous life and her husband had a great job, and they had been on a trip and he got stuck in a stream. As it turns out, this story, it led him to surgery and sadly becoming addicted to prescription drugs, which was really sad. They ended up losing everything.

Teresa Hamilton:

She had six kids to raise, and on her own now at this point when she called, and I said, "Why do you need help buying toilet paper?" She said, "Well, because it's not covered by government assistance and I'm using a government card now." I said, "What do you mean it's not covered?" She said, "Well, I went to the store with all of my kids to get groceries and I had this government card, and they took everything out of my cart that I needed for to get my kids clean."

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, wow.

Teresa Hamilton:

"Anything for hygiene products, they're not covered." I said, "You've got to be kidding me." So she said, "Will you help me?" I said, "Of course we're going to help you. What are you doing with your teenage girls?" She said, "Well, I just have to figure it out. I don't know what to do." So, my husband Bob and I helped them for a period of 10 months get everything they needed into their house. Then after that, she called and she said, "I got a job, I don't need help anymore. Thank you so much. This has been life-changing, I don't know what I would've done." We said, "Well, that's just great." I mean, and honestly I hung up the phone and I was like, "Yes, we're finished."

Kelly Scanlon:

Right.

Teresa Hamilton:

Kind of that yay me, yay God kind of thing. Thanks for helping us help them. But then when I hung up the phone, there was this paralyzing feeling that there are others, there are more, and I could not shake that feeling. In my lifetime I have a three-time rule, if something comes up three times and it's really strong, then I'm going to deal with it start to finish. I don't go out looking for things to do. When things come to me, I just try to pay attention.

Teresa Hamilton:

Well, it came up a week later and then a week later and I was like, "Okay, dang it. That was the third time. I'm just going to make some phone calls-

Kelly Scanlon:

Yep, the sign was there.

Teresa Hamilton:

Figure out what's going on here." So, I started calling pantries and I started calling all kinds of locations to say do you have hygiene products that you can give to people when they come in your door? Because this lady said that she'd been to a pantry and they only had one roll of toilet paper to give her. So I thought Kansas had a huge problem, and then I realized it wasn't Kansas and Missouri, it was the entire United States has a problem.

Teresa Hamilton:

Hygiene products are not covered. Millions and millions of people, anyone who's on government assistance can't get them. I thought, we've got a great system for food, there's lots of people that do a good job of getting food into the hands of people, but not specifically hygiene, they were lost in food.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right.

Teresa Hamilton:

So I thought, "I'll get it started so that it's here long after I'm dead and gone, and then people in the KC area will have access to hygiene products." So, that's what I did. It has been wonderful, because we've gone from initially starting with six pantries, we've got 511 locations that benefit from Giving The Basics now. Yeah, we're providing product in one form or another in 29 states. So in our 10 years, we have exploded. It's been really wonderful.

Teresa Hamilton:

So, really we feel like we've stabilized Kansas City in time of regular need and in time of emergency. During COVID, we just increased our output at 68% and got it into the hands of people quickly and did some tracking. We have new normals for forecasting and we're ready to rock and roll.

Kelly Scanlon:

I bet the pandemic really, really exasperated the need. Let's talk about that for just a minute. Who does the organization serve? You mentioned your friend and that she had a government card, but it doesn't include toiletries and personal hygiene items. Is there any kind of eligibility? Can anybody walk into one of the facilities, one of these pantries that you spoke of and say, "I'm in need," and they're served? How does that work?

Teresa Hamilton:

Well, how it works is we've got four programs that we provide to. Okay, so we have pantries that log in every month and they order monthly the products that they need for their clients. We provide to 350 schools, 360 actually, schools in the local metro area. We provide to 14 police departments so they can get it out to people in need, and then we've got a couple of senior programs that we provide incontinence products to seniors, because they're not covered as well.

Teresa Hamilton:

So what happens is a client of one of these pantry schools, police, or senior programs, they'll walk in and they'll say, "Can I get a shampoo, a deodorant or whatever?" Then they're given the product. As far as qualifying, I'm sure that they have their own ways of qualifying them. They're on SNAP Program, or they'll have to show them, they're on the [inaudible 00:05:32] Program, but we hate kits, I mean, in every way. They are so inefficient and they cause so much waste.

Teresa Hamilton:

So to honor our donor's dollars, we require that every one of these organizations that we serve does not put together kits, because you don't need a new deodorant every month, you don't need a new toothpaste every month. So if they're kitting up the product and handing it out, we're going to have all those deodorants sitting in a drawer that we could have given to someone else. So, that's how the product is distributed so that people in need can walk in and choose what they need.

Teresa Hamilton:

That's part of dignity, right? That you get to choose instead of be told what we're going to throw you. So, we've got a compliance that these pantries and schools and other places have to go through an annual compliance, and they sign our terms of agreement. That's one of them. They have to pick up on time, order on time, and we make the process so simple as we're vetting these pantries, we've just got to know that you do a good job and you'll get it in the hands of the people quickly. Because that's the goal, right? Product in the hands of the people.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right. It doesn't do them any good sitting on a shelf somewhere. Talk to us about how you get the product yourself.

Teresa Hamilton:

The way that we get product to Giving The Basics is we have manufacturers and distributors who donate product to us, we may receive a truckload or new drives out in the community. We ask businesses and individuals to run drives for us, ask for barrels. So, that's another way that we get product in. Another way is if we run low, we can purchase it with donor's dollars. Yeah, we are fortunate at Giving The Basics to be able to triple the dollar because of our buying power.

Teresa Hamilton:

So obviously we can do more with the dollar, but we understand that people want to touch it, feel it, understand the process, so we don't discourage anyone from doing what they want to do. If they want to donate and let us triple the dollar, that's fantastic. Once they understand what we do, pretty much everybody goes to that place. But anyway, we want everyone to understand it, because this is going to be around for a long time that people can't get these products.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you said that you started here 10 years ago in Kansas City and now you're in 29 states, how did you roll that out into the other states? I mean, you really have created a business model here, this isn't just something you're doing on the side.

Teresa Hamilton:

It's kind of funny, because it happened organically. We had excess product that we didn't want to expire, so we had to of course find some larger locations to push some product that we couldn't use in Kansas City, because we were dedicated Kansas City first. We grew up here, this is our city, we're going to nail it. Once we exhausted our possibilities here for if we had an excess of say lotion, we didn't want it to expire, so we had to find some places that were able to receive it and get it out the door and track it for us. Because tracking's a big deal for us, because we've got to have some inroads for the future.

Teresa Hamilton:

Secondly, we realized that there were a lot of companies out there that wanted to have national product drives, so we started a national product drive system. It was wonderful, because if they had 15 locations throughout the country, we were able to drop ship to those locations the hygiene products that they garnered from their product drive.

Teresa Hamilton:

So, it was phenomenal. It was very organic how we grew, and I feel like that's responsible, because we don't take on a location locally unless we know we're going to be able to serve them for a length of time. It was more of an organic as needed thing, and so the companies that have done the national product drives just love it, because they do a competition and it's really wonderful for them.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, and you have organizers in the various states that you serve, you're not trying to run those from Kansas City I take it?

Teresa Hamilton:

It's coordinated by the company, we just do a great job of communicating with them on a daily basis where their organizations are at for product. So we do have a staff member here who runs those national product drive, but it's not a constant thing. I mean, we've got maybe four a year, so it's not like every single day we're trying to run this.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are you finding are your, let's say your top five most needed items? Is that a pretty consistent list or does that change from time to time?

Teresa Hamilton:

Oh, it's very consistent over the years, because what we try to do, post-pandemic we've tried to stock eight months' worth of product, because we know that that's responsible in case there's any kind of a shut down. We did it at the-

Kelly Scanlon:

Supply chain? Yeah.

Teresa Hamilton:

Yeah, the 68% increase. So we've got some really good stock, but what we always have to end up purchasing is toothpaste and deodorant and shampoo. We purchase razors, a lot of times we'll have to purchase toilet paper, the paper products, and feminine products. If I had to say, those are our top needs that we look for and are continuing to look for manufacturers to get those donations. It would help us so much to not have to spend money on product. A semi of toilet paper's like $22,000.

Kelly Scanlon:

Oh, I can believe it.

Teresa Hamilton:

A lot of money.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, yeah.

Teresa Hamilton:

We have to do that a couple times a year. So it's not easy, but this is the one thing it started with was toilet paper, right?

Kelly Scanlon:

Exactly, right.

Teresa Hamilton:

You can't not provide that to your pantries. They're in desperate need, the people are.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that you work with various groups, veterans, the school children, the elderly, and some extended care homes and so forth. How did you decide to add those particular programs?

Teresa Hamilton:

We started with just pantries getting it into the hands of people through the foot traffic at the pantries, because it seemed like it was respectful to say they've already vetted the clients. We don't need to vet anybody, we just need to make sure that they have the product available. So, we started with that and then we received a phone call from a teacher asking could we do a school? We thought, "Well, the system so wonderfully is set up to do any location." So we decided to add the school kids, because she said the kids are getting bullied, they're sitting in the back of the classroom, they won't raise their hand, they don't socialize, they dread going to school.

Teresa Hamilton:

She had talked to these kids and we talked to the kids and it was the saddest thing to see, that they just kind of endured it all day long, the pain of being at school, because they didn't have access to the products. So, of course we added one school and now we have got 25 active school districts, which is 360 schools. So-

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure. Word gets around, doesn't it?

Teresa Hamilton:

Yeah, it did. Then the police, we were watching the police have a difficult time being able to serve the people at a personal level, so we approached the police department in Kansas City, Missouri and said, "Hey, we'd love to have you distribute our products when you're out there, because you're going to meet people we would never meet." So we decided to go ahead and add the police in, and it is one of their favorite programs. Their testimonials are unbelievable, how they can in a crime scene get it into the hands of a family they wouldn't normally be able to. So, that's wonderful.

Teresa Hamilton:

Then the other one we added was seniors, and that was because emotionally I just couldn't handle it anymore, the phone calls I would get. When I first started Giving The Basics, all the phone calls came to my phone, and so at 10:30 at night I'd have a senior citizen crying on the other end of the phone saying, "I'm getting jacked around and nobody's helping me, and I need these incontinence products, and I'm sitting in my own waste." I thought, "You know what?" I came in and I told our team, I said, "These people built our buildings, our roads, they built Kansas City, many of them, and now they're sitting in their own waste, like, heck no, we've got to do something."

Teresa Hamilton:

So, we added the senior incontinence program. That one's probably the most near and dear to my heart, because I just cannot imagine being stuck in that kind of pain never knowing at the end of your road you're going to end up without incontinence products. That is something that we run out of, the incontinence products are, and I hadn't mentioned that earlier. So, we are looking for a manufacturer to get us stable in making sure we've got all the sizes, because we provide it by size and type of incontinence product that the senior need.

Teresa Hamilton:

That's really why we added all of those programs. It's the same system, it's just meant to be, because they order monthly, they pick up monthly and they get it out into the community. They order monthly, they pick up monthly, all of them do the exact same thing on a different day. So we're constantly filling orders down here, packaging, sorting and filling orders for all of these organizations.

Teresa Hamilton:

Some of our pantry locations are veterans and some of them are also prison re-entry. The veterans is a really cool program though. They don't have much to give the veterans and they decided that this was a really ... if you miss this for the veterans, they wouldn't ever really be able to fit in like the school kids weren't able to fit in. They wouldn't be able to have that pride and dignity that they deserve after serving our country and the sacrifices they've made, so this became a priority for us to take on veterans, locate specific pantries that were veteran-oriented.

Kelly Scanlon:

Obviously you have a large, large outreach and you operate very much under the radar. Can you talk with us in specific terms about the impact of this program over the last 10 years?

Teresa Hamilton:

It has been very interesting in growing Giving The Basics and doing it intentionally. We wanted to run this as a business model and we wanted to make sure that our work proved who we were, we didn't want to have anything that we had to try to prove or sell to get people to be engaged with Giving The Basics. It's allowed us to impact over 250,000 people a month.

Teresa Hamilton:

When we're doing grants and they're wanting an impact statement and all of these things, I think if you want to know the real impact of Giving The Basics, try to go for three days without any basics. No toilet paper, no soap, no shampoo, and imagine yourself trying to go to work or get a job. So, we tell people the challenge is go for three days and halfway through the first day video how that felt and send it to us, because that's the impact of one bottle of shampoo. It's really for a family of four for a month.

Teresa Hamilton:

You look at a bar of soap, that's relief. It's health, hope and dignity, that's the impact of the hygiene products that we provide to all these people. So, that's why it never gets old. Our team is really engaged. The testimonials we have are incredible from people, but you're right about how we go under the radar, because we've tried to interview people, that we serve these pantries, so we'll ask them, "Hey, can you get us a testimonial so that we can show the impact?" They always are thanking the pantry for the hygiene products, and we're like, "Okay, they don't even know we're involved, which is really kind of cool. We're like the silent provider."

Teresa Hamilton:

So, I feel like we're really doing God's work behind the scenes to make sure that we're supporting the pantries to their success, to their client's success, and eventually to their children, their student, whoever it is, we're helping everyone behind the scenes. That's really hard to market. So when it comes to asking for grant dollars, we're always a little like, "Oh my goodness. Since we are not able to go out and market what we do through these testimonials." We do get them from the pantries, but the individual clients, I mean, we're helping 250,000 people a month that we will never meet.

Kelly Scanlon:

That child who was sitting in the back of the room and was not fully engaged in school because he or she felt unclean or bullied, but now they're engaged and who knows what overall change that can have on their life and what they might go on to do. So that's just one example, but that's the impact you can't really measure.

Teresa Hamilton:

Well, you're right. We've got the testimonials from the teachers, the kids are raising their hand, they're moving to the front of the classroom. They've gone from D's and F's to A's and B's, so the impact is direct and immediate on these students. If you imagine the pressure they've been under and now they believe all these lies about themself, that they're junk, and it's not true. So, finally they're freed from that and they always feel like people are staring at them, so all of that goes away and the pride and the dignity start to shine and they see hope for the future.

Teresa Hamilton:

I mean, you think about the distance and difference that is caused by not having soap and shampoo, and this is so easy to fix. So we've been tracking United States for the last 11 years, we have locations all over the country that have requested our services and registered with Giving The Basics. So with the proper funding, we can literally just say, "Turn on Oklahoma, turn on California," right? Because we've been tracking the need in all of these locations as these pantries and schools and police departments register to receive from us.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about how our listeners can help support Giving The Basics.

Teresa Hamilton:

To support Giving The Basics, get involved, come and volunteer and put your eyes on what we're doing. Then after you volunteer, bring others so that you can give them a tour and they can see what we're doing. If you work for a company, that you could get involved to have a product drive. If you know of any companies that have grants we can apply for, that would be very helpful. Funding is obviously imperative to be able to get product to people.

Teresa Hamilton:

If you are in a position where you can donate personally, please do that. But the main thing is to make this part of your DNA, just feel it. Feel it so that you want to come take a tour, volunteer, have a drive or donate, because those really are vehicles just like our systems for getting product out there, our programs, there's just great ways that you can tailor and choose how you want to do it. We want to offer dignity to you to choose a way and then come see us.

Kelly Scanlon:

What is the best way to get in touch? Is it to go out to your website first and review the different programs and the different volunteer and engagement opportunities that are available, and then contact you through the website?

Teresa Hamilton:

You can contact us through info@givingthebasics.org, or you can go to the website, I think givingthebasics.org website. There is a contact us button on there that you can use, or you can always give us a call.

Kelly Scanlon:

That number's on the website as well, right?

Teresa Hamilton:

Right. That's on the website.

Kelly Scanlon:

Teresa, wonderful, wonderful things that you are doing there, and to imagine that it all started with a friend in need.

Teresa Hamilton:

Well, I can't leave off the fact that we have an incredible board of directors and we've had so many smart and generous people step up for Giving The Basics. So when you're on our website, if you do choose to go that way, please look at our board, and if you see them in-person, thank them, because their efforts have gotten us to this place that we are. They're dedicated, they know this isn't going to fix itself, and they're in it for the long-term to make sure that we have a system set up for Kansas City long-term. No other city has what we have.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, thank you very much for sharing this with us, and thank you, the board, all your volunteers and staff for all the work that you do. We appreciate it.

Teresa Hamilton:

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it. You guys are wonderful, you've been a great source of support for us.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Teresa Hamilton for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC.

Joe Close:

Most of us get up in the morning, shower, shave and wash our hair. It's a ritual we perform so often, we don't even think about it, yet many of our fellow citizens lack the personal hygiene products that we use throughout the day and take for granted. Stop for a minute and think through all the products like toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, laundry soap, et cetera that you use every day, now think about going a day or even half a day without them.

Joe Close:

Giving The Basics provides the necessities of life that government assistance programs don't cover. Providing these products helps eliminate humiliation, promotes better learning and engagement for our youth, and importantly offers hope and dignity.

Joe Close:

Country Club Bank is honored to offer our support to Giving The Basics. We applaud Teresa, her team and their community partners for the much needed work that they do. Thanks for tuning in this week, we're banking on you Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.