Community Engagement

Helping with hygiene

Two OUWB student organizations collaborate to help local people in need

An image of a student holding one of the hygiene kits

M2 Skylar Sundquist holds up one of the hygiene kits. (Submitted photo)

Community Engagement

icon of a calendarDec. 21, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Chloe Kukuk

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Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine student organizations Harm Reduction Alliance and Street Medicine Oakland recently teamed up on a hygiene drive to collect items for local people in need.

The organizations sought items such as toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, conditioner, lotion, wet wipes, and other general hygiene products.

Items were collected in OUWB’s Student Lounge, and given to Street Medicine Oakland for distribution to community members in need.

“Hygiene is one of the things that I think a lot of us take for granted,” said Lakshmi Vrittamani, M2, a member of the HRA and the community outreach chair for Street Medicine Oakland.

“As we get to the holidays, as it gets colder, we find that there are a lot of resources that people on the street need.”

Street Medicine Oakland aims to assist people currently unhoused and ensure that they receive adequate care. About every other week, the organization goes on outreach trips in the Pontiac area to offer resources, food and water, and healthcare.

HRA mainly focuses on reducing the stigma surrounding drug use and asking for assistance, but also aims to reduce harm in all ways of life.

Skylar Sundquist, M2, vice president of HRA, said the hygiene drive is consistent with the organization’s goals.

“A large part of community health is being able to help those that are most vulnerable,” she said. “Providing hygiene kits to people who need it is such a good way to promote health and is often a huge barrier and huge risk factor when it comes to a lot of health concerns.”

While a small part of a larger issue, Connie Chen, M2, president, HRA, said she thinks that even something as small as a hygiene kit can make a difference in people’s lives.

“Being able to provide at least one thing off that list for someone, it just makes them feel seen,” said Chen. “It’s like little steps…it’s easier to go one step at a time than to just go five steps at a time.”

An image of the contents of the hygiene kits

The contents of the kits. (Submitted photo)

Different organizations, similar goals

The two organizations chose to collaborate due to the similarities in their goals.

“I think it’s important [that] harm reduction is seen as something that can take many forms. So anything from seat belts to promoting healthy behaviors or lifestyles,” said Vrittamani. “It’s just nice to be able to be an organization that promotes treating people with kindness and empathy while also promoting public health strategies.”

This isn’t the first time the two organizations have collaborated.

“Last year, Harm Reduction Alliance and Street (Medicine Oakland) collaborated on a clothing drive, which was held at a similar time of year as it got colder, to collect materials for people to stay warm with,” said Chen. “I think we really enjoy collaborating because we have very similar missions that are really focused on empowering people and just giving them resources that they would like to have.”

For members of the two groups, hosting the drive is a moment to learn about the importance of understanding what the backgrounds of their future patients may be.

“I think it’s really important for us as we go into our future careers as physicians to remember that everyone is coming from a unique context. Everyone has a different background, and everyone has different resources,” said Sundquist. “It’s just important to recognize that (while caring for patients), and, if possible, connect people with community resources that can help empower them.”

“I’m very passionate about Street Medicine and just being able to meet people where they are,” said Vrittamani. “I think that being able to address the barriers that vulnerable individuals face will help promote larger health goals and advocate for people who don’t really have a voice.”

People who are interested in donating or volunteering with Street Medicine Oakland can email them at [email protected].

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