The Uncommon Woman’s Kind Kits Initiative

By Michelle McChristie

Last October, local entrepreneur Marlo Ellis reached out to her team of ambassadors through her women’s ministry, The Uncommon Woman, to support some of our community’s most vulnerable people. The concept was simple: collect lightly used airline kits, hotel toiletries, and makeup bags, pack them into kits, and distribute them to those in need. The result was overwhelming—by the end of December, they distributed over 1,500 Kind Kits across North America in cities such as St. Catharines, Brandon, Calgary, Rocky Mountain House, Denver, and, of course, Thunder Bay. 

Elizabeth Thomson, a local ex-pat who lives in Hong Kong, pitched the idea to Ellis in the summer of 2020. Sixteen years ago, her son started a project as part of his work as a Boy Scout to collect and repackage hotel toiletries and donate them to shelters and the homeless in Hong Kong. Thomson continued her son’s work through her not-for-profit organization, The Amber Foundation. While chatting over coffee on Ellis’ deck, Thomas asked if she would be interested in starting the initiative locally through The Uncommon Woman.

Ellis approached her team and said, “We have an opportunity to support women who are in shelters […] with their children and we also have the opportunity to support the homeless in our communities, but we also have an opportunity to contribute to initiatives to clean up the planet.” She viewed the initiative as having two strong legs—social and environmental—which are both important to The Uncommon Woman ministry. “They all said ‘yes,’ so we launched it almost immediately,” says Ellis.

Locally, Ellis and her small but dedicated team put out the call for donations. “We asked people for hotel toiletries,” explains Ellis. “Of course everybody’s got these things stuffed under their sinks and in their closets and they hang on to them forever [and] eventually they hit the garbage cans.” They also asked for airline kits that you find in first class so the toiletries could be repacked in the cases. Not surprisingly, they collected far more toiletries than kits, so they put out a call for make-up bags, which enabled them to pack more kits. 

So far, the local team has distributed over 700 Kind Kits and 30 boxes of toiletries to support sex workers, the homeless, and others though organizations such as Grace Place, Elevate NWO, PACE (the warming centre), The Salvation Army, and Marjorie House (a women’s shelter in Marathon). With the help of the families at Valley Central Public School, led by teacher Michelle Somerfield, they also collected full-size toiletries, scarves, mittens, socks, and pajamas which helped provide about 30 gift bags to women living on the street and in shelters. St. Bernard School also supported the initiative and “went over and above,” says Ellis.

Ellis credits The Uncommon Woman leadership team with the success of the initiative. “These women all have really painful stories, some of them have lived in shelters—all of the women have had really hard times,” she says. “As soon as you have people who are connected to a cause working in that cause something magical happens.” She has quickly learned that people want to give. “I’m already taking names of people from places across Canada and the United States who saw what we are doing and said, ‘the next time you do this, I want in’—we’re kind of in a place right now where we are organizing the next round so that can get more people involved and have a greater reach.”

If you’d like to support the Kind Kits initiative, reach out to The Uncommon Woman via, Facebook, or Instagram or watch for their call for donations in April–May and November–December.