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From Port Folio Magazine:

BrianstuffSoap for Hope

By Korey Hughes
Tuesday, Apr. 11, 2006


These days, Norfolk resident Brian Friedman’s garage always smells like soap, but he says he doesn’t mind. In fact, the fragrant scent is just as refreshing as Friedman’s idea to help Hampton Roads’ homeless population by providing them with travel-sized toiletries.

Friedman is the founder and director of the Norfolk-based nonprofit organization Hotels for the Homeless. The group provides shelters and other organizations with kits that include soaps and other hygiene items such as combs, disposable razors, shampoos, toothbrushes and toothpastes.

On a chilly night in February 2005, Friedman and his family participated in an event sponsored by Project N.E.S.T, a local organization that provides rotating homeless shelters during the winter months.

That evening, Project N.E.S.T. took in about 60 homeless men and women, but Friedman knew there were still others on the streets who needed help. Friedman was inspired to come up with a way to continue to help by providing a non-perishable necessity.

Friedman travels extensively for his job as a partner in American Campus Company, a College Park, Maryland advertising agency whose business development arm is based in Norfolk. During hotel stays, he was inspired to collect soaps and other travel-sized items that could be used by the homeless.

Now, Friedman solicits inventory support for Hotels for the Homeless from hotels, clubs and resorts during business trips.

"I began to present my concept to general managers of hotels and request that they support our efforts by providing us with bulk inventory," Friedman said.

A week after Friedman mentioned his idea to the general manager of The Yale Club of New York City, six cases of travel-sized soaps, lotions and shampoos arrived on Friedman’s front porch. With a tangible idea and product in hand, Friedman then converted his garage into a distribution center for the kits.

Due to his demanding schedule, though, Friedman knew he wouldn’t be able to sustain the entire venture by himself, so he enlisted help from community members. Nearly overnight, he formed a board of directors.

Friedman also came up with the idea of soliciting local schools for student volunteers to streamline the packaging efforts.

After approaching Michael Caprio, principal of Maury High School, and William King, headmaster of Norfolk Collegiate, with the idea, he was able to convince both schools to solicit volunteers. The students receive community service credits for their participation.

His cold calls have resulted in support from local hospitality providers such as The Harbour Group, The Waterside Marriott, and The Radisson in Norfolk and The Cavalier Hotel, The Crowne Plaza Hotel and The Hilton Town Center in Virginia Beach, among others.

"I’ve been told that what we’re asking for is surprisingly refreshing," Friedman said. "I’ve had conversations with general managers of hotels, and they stop me and say, ‘Brian, you haven’t asked me for my checkbook!’"

Because Friedman has been approached repeatedly by private citizens who would like to contribute to the organization’s efforts, Hotels for the Homeless will conduct a community collection drive from April 15 to 25.

People are invited to purchase travel-sized toiletries or donate items they have collected during their hotel stays.

Drop boxes will be placed at various sponsor locations throughout south Hampton Roads including all 40 Albano Cleaners stores in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach; Baker’s Crust in Norfolk and Virginia Beach; the City of Norfolk Parks and Recreation community centers; Norfolk Public Libraries; Donut Dinette in Norfolk; Elliot’s Fair Grounds Coffee in Norfolk; Gray’s Pharmacy in Norfolk; the Naro Expanded Cinemas in Norfolk; Old Dominion University’s School of Dental Hygiene; Port City Java in Norfolk; and Wave Riding Vehicles in Virginia Beach.

"We are so happy to have our partners assist us in this effort," Friedman said. "We invite the public to clean out their closets and look under their sinks to help us."

"I believe that we’re doing good work here, and we look forward to sustaining the gift of inventories because there’s a lot of need out there." •

Those interested in participating can contact Brian Friedman at 624-2084 and info@hotelsforthehomeless.org.

(Copyright (c) 2006, Port Folio Magazine. All Rights Reserved)