In a region full of overachievers, Areej Khan and Palak Shah still impress with the generosity and magnitude of their clear-eyed vision.
Khan and Shah are high school seniors who saw the need and came up with the idea of Clean Kits. They now regularly collect, assemble, and donate hygiene kits to homeless women. Which is how we met them—they approached and donated 170 kits, each containing a bar of soap and 10 tampons and pads.
Let’s start at the beginning, though. How do a pair of 18-year olds get to this juncture? “It was a school project. We were asked to find a problem, do the research, and come up with the solution,” Shah says. “And I wanted to partner with someone who was just as dedicated.” Conveniently, Shah and Khan have known each other since freshman year, so a partnership made sense. But still, how did it get from school project to real life? “Well, what’s the point of doing all this research and not taking action?” So they did.
A year later, they’ve handed out 750 kits in DC, Fairfax and Loudon counties.
Why hygiene kits? “Because people don’t think of it,” Khan says. “All the drives focus on canned food and clothing, which are certainly important. But no one thinks of this aspect of hygiene, which is equally important. I think it just hasn’t been done more because among other things, it doesn’t occur to half the population. And those who do think about it, don’t always talk about it.”
Ah yes, the stigma of menstruation. Except Khan and Shah took the first step, and faced it head on. “If you said that homeless people need a toothbrush or soap, no one would argue,” Khan says. “This isn’t any different. It’s about health and hygiene. When we presented it that way, no one disagreed.”
Khan and Shah are headed to college in the fall, one to Virginia Tech, the other to VCU. But they have plans in place to sustain the Clean Kit project. They already have a schedule and check-off lists in place. Their plan is to restock kits every 3 to 6 months based on an organization’s need—in addition to the soap, tampons, and pads, the next batch will also contain a small wash cloth and five plastic bags. They are now assembling a team so they can go from outreach to delegation and a wider area of service. If anything, they plan to expand donations to Richmond, where VCU is located. And yes, they are already in the process of establishing a non-profit with 501c3 tax deductible status, courtesy of one parent who happens to be a financial advisor.
They have two reasons for forming a non-profit, apart from the obvious. “People are more comfortable donating to a non-profit. But more than that, there didn’t seem to be that many grants we could apply to for this one thing.”
One more thing—the Clean Kits come in cloth drawstring bags. “They’re reusable, and that way the women have something in which to keep the few things they have.” It’s certainly a big step up from the stereotypical garbage bag.
Until their paperwork comes through, Khan and Shah continue to gather donations through word of mouth. You can find out more about Clean Kit online at http://www.cleankits.org and donate at http://bit.ly/2oS2oNz