Soap project to aid local shelter

After facing a lack of funding at the beginning of this year, Diakonia – a homeless shelter in West Ocean City, Md. – was in dire straights. They knew something had to be done or they wouldn’t be able to provide emergency food and housing assistance to those who needed it most.

Picture: Soap to be sold to benefit Diakonia, a homeless shelter in West ocean City.Coastal Point photos: Submitted
Soap to be sold to benefit Diakonia, a homeless shelter in West ocean City.

Marco Hernandez – who, along with his wife, Kimberly Grimes, owns Made By Hand International Cooperative in South Bethany – sits on the board of Diakonia. He came up with the idea to solve the problem with soap after walking around his shop one day.

“I started with the idea when I saw all the merchandise in the shop and I saw soaps that we sell for a similar organization in Chicago that works with women who have been abused. And I thought, ‘Everybody needs soap. We all have to bathe, anyway, and it would be a good, quality soap for a good cause.’”

Hernandez presented the idea to the Diakonia board, and they thought it would be a good idea – not only to raise funds but also to serve as a training program for some of their residents who want to learn about and contribute to the project.

“The executive director, Claudia Nagle, and the board were very excited. We didn’t quite know how or where, because there’s no space at the shelter, but they were excited,” Hernandez said.

The training of the residents can serve as a dual purpose — as both a way to produce the soaps and also as a way to help build confidence and self-esteem for the guests.

“It could really help them emotionally,” he said. “The teamwork would teach them how to make the soaps, how to market them, and will teach them that every single person on the team is important. The idea is integration into the community. If they are well-integrated into the community [because of the project], it will be less of an issue and they know they have something positive that they are a part of.”

For now, the new line of soaps is being made by volunteers at the home of Hernandez and Grimes, but they have hopes to maybe someday use a commercial space, depending on the need and interest they can generate.

“We thought it’s better to start the fundraising efforts while using my own kitchen,” said Hernandez. “We will know eventually if we will need a bigger space.”

Their goal for 2009 is to raise $50,000 with the project, and so far Hernandez has generated some interest with local businesses willing to carry the soaps. The soaps are all handmade using organic ingredients, such as essential oils. They include oatmeal, aloe, rosemary and organic, fair-trade coffee, which is used as an exfoliant. “Flavors” of soap include lavender, rosemary, lemon, peppermint and eucalyptus. They are all 100 percent organic.

“We are really hoping that the community will respond,” said Hernandez.

The soaps cost $5 each and can be purchased at Made By Hand in South Bethany, at PNC Bank in Bethany Beach, at the offices of Dr. Nicholas Borodulia in Fenwick Island, at Restaurant El Dorado on Route 24 in Rehoboth Beach, and at Hair We ‘R’ in the Montego Bay Shopping Center in Ocean City. Bulk orders can be made by stopping by or calling Made by Hand at (302) 539-6335 or by e-mail at

Diakonia Inc. is the only provider of comprehensive emergency and transitional housing for men, women and families on the lower Eastern Shore. Diakonia is dedicated to building a foundation for those in crisis to maintain a lifestyle without homelessness while providing security, stability and enhancing the quality of life.

Diakonia provides emergency food assistance and housing services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 2007, guests obtained more than 9,616 bed nights; 58 percent of those guests had mental health issues and were taking four or more prescription medications per day. More than 55,000 meals and snacks were served. More than 5,000 food bags were distributed from the pantry and still, more than 800 people were turned away from Diakonia. They are a non-profit 501c3 organization. For more information about Diakonia, call (410) 213 0923 or e-mail