Hope Thru Soap Offers Hygiene and More to Atlanta’s Less Fortunate

Jason Winter and his crew travel the city to bring their shower trailers and a sense of dignity to a forgotten population.

Hope Thru Soap Offers Hygiene and More to Atlanta’s Less Fortunate

Jason Winter, right, founder of Hope Thru Soap, is shown with Hope Thru Soap board member Larry Dorfman, left, and Chuck Millstage of Optimus Industries, which builds the shower trailers. 

As Jason Winter likes to explain it, some folks enjoy golf, other forms of recreation or hobbies on the weekend. But he and his friends just like to get together and help people in need. That’s their happy place.

The journey to forming the nonprofit group Hope Thru Soap started one spring Saturday afternoon when Winter and a handful of friends collected socks, hats and gloves and met at The Varsity, a restaurant in downtown Atlanta. Then they set off to visit people living on the streets and distribute the clothing items.

That’s when they met a young man of about 20 who left a lasting impression. He was wearing a heavy coat, dirty blue jeans, but no socks or shoes. “Broken down,” is how Winter remembered him.

“We decided later that day to go back and find him and get him a hotel,” he recalled. “We stopped at Walmart for clothes and shoes, and then went down to find him the next day, but we couldn’t find him.” And they never did find him. The group was disheartened, but the experienced galvanized an idea to help those in need, and a slogan was born: “Hoping to make someone’s day … better than the day before.”

Two years later, that act of kindness has grown into a broader volunteer effort that involves hundreds of people and many organizations around Atlanta, and even touches the world of  portable sanitation with the Hope Thru Soap project, which brings shower trailers to those less fortunate in the city. 

SHOWER POWER

The group, headed by Winter, the founder and CEO, and his girlfriend Megan Vandebogert, the executive director, organizes weekly Saturday block parties that attract 300 less fortunate persons (Winter doesn’t like to use the term “homeless”). The effort was profiled in a USA Today “Humankind” video that has been viewed 45 million times and has attracted many donors to the cause. Since then, the group has partnered with the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks and the Harlem Globetrotters and found many sponsors to help with the block parties.

For the showers, the group has its first purchased trailer, a two-stall Forest River model, and a new unit received in 2020, that was built out by Optimus Industries. Several companies donated parts for the new trailer, including Lippert, a multinational RV component supplier, that gave the frame, axle and steps. Optimus Industries also supported the project. 

While the new trailer has a fully self-contained water supply, Soap Thru Hope deploys a cargo van carrying a 1,000-gallon freshwater bladder to keep first trailer supplied. Between them, the units can provide 40-50 showers per event. Users are given fresh towels and supplies to keep while Winter and others monitor activity to make sure the stalls are cleaned and maintained between showers. 

Showers are a critical need and a big part of the block parties but Hope Thru Soap does more to turn the events into a joyous occasion for all involved, Jason said. They typically set up in a donated parking lot in the city — sometimes at a church or a business. A group of 10-30 volunteers cooks meals using grills and Winter, who is also a DJ, spins upbeat music that gets visitors dancing. Hope Thru Soap also brings along a converted airport shuttle bus that serves as a mobile closet in the front, where visitors can pick out free clothing, and a barbershop in the back, where a couple of barbers cut hair all afternoon.

GIVING BACK 

Winter said the events provide an opportunity for visitors to receive help without judgment, and a way for the volunteers to get to know a part of the population that is often ignored or disregarded. He believes it’s important not to “preach” to the less fortunate, but just provide them with basic needed services. 

He explained the genesis for the project in the USA Today video: “When we were kids, we had a lot of stuff and were always very fortunate. When I got older, I realized having all these things, a house, a bed, a car, a job — it’s all great. But for me, giving back, that’s my big fancy car. What makes me feel good is by helping the community.”

The idea for providing shower trailers came when summer was coming on and he asked some of the visitors what would be the one service they would really like to have. The answer was near unanimous that a cleansing shower was nearly impossible to find. 

And this isn’t the first time we’ve featured a charity shower trailer project in PRO. In 2019, we profiled the efforts of Texas-based Streetside Showers and Lance Olinski, a Dallas-area pastor who saw a need to serve the homeless. That program uses Forest River and Comforts of Home shower trailers that move around the metro area providing relief to the needy. And when Olinski was looking for inspiration, he found another shower trailer nonprofit, Lava Mae, which was serving the homeless in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Are these efforts the start of bigger trend to provide basic hygiene to those on the streets? It’s a timely question as homelessness is running rampant in American cities large and small. Groups like Hope Thru Soap have determined it’s important to help the least among us and are making a difference in their hometowns. How can you help?

YOU CAN HELP

In the past, I’ve suggested ways that portable sanitation companies can partner with cities to place more restrooms where homeless populations congregate. Vendors partnering with local governments can help halt the incidence of public defecation and urination that are causing many problems with cleanup and the potential for spreading disease. And that’s not even mentioning how these problems damage the reputation of our cities and turn away thousands of downtown workers and tourists every year. 

This is a public health crisis, and nobody is in a better position than portable restroom operators to lend their equipment and expertise to the cause. In the case of Hope Thru Soap, Winter has his hands full and hasn’t even considered the need for portable restrooms at the block parties. Maybe a PRO in the Atlanta area would want to reach out and donate a few units on Saturdays. 

I want to learn about other efforts of PROs to volunteer to make their communities a better place to live. Reach out and share your story with me at editor@promonthly.com and I will highlight these efforts in a future column. 



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