“Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
You won’t find this sentence in the Bible. Instead, it’s John Wesley, the 18th century pastor known as the co-founder of the Methodist movement, who is credited with inventing this phrase. John, someone who often emphasized cleanliness in his preaching, would be proud of the outreach that’s available at the First Presbyterian Church of Philipsburg these days.
The Angel Sent Soap Pantry is a monthly ministry that provides hygiene items ranging from soap to household cleaners to those in need in the Philipsburg area of Huntingdon Presbytery. Having started in the fall of 2015, the pantry helps the recipients of the goods maintain personal health while also giving them renewed confidence.
“I have watched people come in there who you knew they weren’t clean and probably didn’t have a way of cleaning up,” said Holly Kithcart, an elder at the First Church of Philipsburg who is one of the organizers of the Angel Sent Soap Pantry. “We’ve seen an improvement of that. I do believe that spiritually it makes a huge difference to someone who has not been able to have a clean body, have a clean home who now can feel clean and feel presentable to other people.”
Open the third Thursday of the month from 1-4 p.m., the Angel Sent Soap Pantry is housed in a downstairs room at the First Church of Philipsburg. The amount of foot traffic varies from month to month, with as many as 27 families stopping by on a given day to restock their cabinets.
“We have a lot of single people – widows and widowers – come in,” said Carol Moore, another organizer of the soap pantry. “We also have families come in, sometimes six or more people of all ages.
“The requests went down when people got covid money, but now it’s starting back up again because they’ve obviously spent that money that came from the government and they’re needing help again. Some will come every three months. There’s no consistency about who comes.”
The soap pantry works hand-in-hand with the local food bank to make sure only those who truly are in need of the personal hygiene and cleaning supplies are receiving them. The food bank screens customers before handing out its goods, and those who come to the soap pantry need to have a voucher from the food bank confirming their need to receive hygiene and cleaning items. First-time shoppers to the soap pantry will not be turned away but must have the proper identification from the food bank before returning a second time.
“We just have to be so careful,” Carol said. “It’s not that we don’t want to give what we have. We certainly do or we wouldn’t be doing it, but we need to be fair to everyone.”
The items available include bar soap and body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorants, shampoo and conditioners, dish and laundry detergents, and household cleaners. Paper towels, toilet tissue and facial tissues are also available. From time to time depending on what has been donated, the soap pantry will also have a separate table of items with things like diapers and wipes, feminine products and even things like candles and potpourri available.
The majority of the donations come from the congregation, with the local Kiwanis Club and other churches and organizations also chipping in with both financial and item donations throughout the year.
“We have no federal funding, there’s no state funding,” Holly explained. “It’s all donations of one kind or another.”
Food stamps do not allow for the purchase of personal hygiene items, thus making it difficult for people on limited incomes to acquire the things they need to keep themselves, their families and their homes clean. It was this realization that led to conversations by the Mission Committee at the First Church of Philipsburg in 2014 about housing a soap pantry. After a year of planning and then a quick acceptance from the church’s session, the idea became a reality.
“It’s one of the ways that people don’t expect to see the love of Christ,” Carol said of the soap pantry. “They can get shoes, clothes and used things (elsewhere), but the idea of cleaning products was a whole brand-new idea to me. I taught school, I taught little ones, and I had children who came to school with their clothes dirty and their body smelling.
“When that Mission Committee met, we talked about a lot of different things. Then Holly brought up this soap pantry idea and that was absolutely the thing we knew that we had to do to help our community.”
The impact the soap pantry has had on the church is another positive thing to come out of this ministry.
“If we put a box in the narthex and have an announcement in the bulletin that we’re in need of such a product, people respond quite readily to it,” Holly said. “We do have two or three people who donate financially on a regular basis. I think the congregation believes in it.
“There are times when I’ll go down and find on our tables grocery bags with different items that we give out of maybe laundry detergent, shampoo or toothpaste,” Carol added. “We don’t know who puts it there. People are just donating. If we’re running low on something, we’ll tell the congregation, and they’ll meet the need.
“Whenever we start to really get low on something, it appears. Sometimes without asking the congregation, people just bring things.”
The Angel Sent Soap Pantry has become an invaluable outreach in the Philipsburg area that is providing essential items for those in need while also fueling the volunteers with Christian grace and love.
“God has been very faithful in this,” Holly concluded. “I think it’s something that he truly believes that’s needed in our area and he’s behind us all the way.
“There are people who come in and they are so desperate. They do not know how they are going to feed their family let alone get something of this nature. It has made a huge difference in a lot of them. It’s showing the love of God and I think a great many of them do feel that.”