I had the pleasure of interviewing 13-year-old Olivia Ohlson recently.
Olivia distributes hygiene kits to Evanston’s underserved residents every first and third Wednesday evenings from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Evanston Vineyard Church's drive up food pantry at 2495 Howard St.
For more information, join Olivia's Facebook group Hygiene Kits for Evanston’s Underserved.
You can support Olivia's efforts financially by donating to her GoFundMe.
Here's my interview with Olivia.
OO: I'm Olivia Ohlson, I turned 13 two weeks ago, and I will be in eighth grade this fall at Haven Middle School in Evanston.
KH: I'm so excited to talk about the work that you are doing in the community. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing and why you decided to do it.
OO: I'm building hygiene kits for the underserved community in Evanston, and then I'm passing them out at Vineyard Church's Wednesday food drive. I also gave some to My Block My Hood My City and we're hoping to contact other churches to distribute them there as well. I make them all myself. We put in basic supplies, shampoo, conditioner sunscreen lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste.
KH: Awesome. And you said a little bit about who you donate the kits to. So you're at Vineyard Church, and I know people normally go there to pick up, other things, so you're just there passing them out as well. Have you collaborated with any other organization in Evanston?
OO: Not so much in Evanston. We did distribute 50 kits to My Block My Hood My City, which they then gave out to seniors on the south side, but other than that, not in our community now.
KH: So, why did you decide to put together these hygiene kits?
OO: Well, we really want to focus on feminine products in the beginning, but then we realized that there were other needs that needed to be met. So we decided to broaden into hygiene products.
KH: So you just kind of came up with this idea? Because it's awesome.
OO: Firstly, we wanted to get hygiene products into all of the schools. When we found out that they were pretty much set for at least the next few school years, we decided to move into the community. And it was kind of like, we woke up and we realized that those were some of the products that we needed most and are usually given out as much as food or clothes.
KH: Do you think that the pandemic increased this need for hygiene kits?
OO: I think it did. I mean we started after Covid had already hit, but I think it definitely has because so many people are out of work, or lost their jobs, it's just such a difficult economic time, so I think that it's really been helping some families.
KH: Is Connections for the Homeless aware of what you're doing in the community?
OO: We haven't spoken to them yet. We’ve done some projects there in the past and we'd be willing to work with them. We were actually hoping to. We just haven't started yet.
KH: I think that would be an amazing collaboration, they are definitely always looking for donations in that regard.
OO: I agree.
KH: So what is something that you would say that you learned throughout this? I mean, since you started putting together the hygiene kits. Have you ever done something like this before?
OO: A little bit. Not really in the same way because I was younger and it was formatted differently. I did raise money for the Kellogg Cancer Center three years ago, so I've done service projects my whole life, but this project has been more difficult than those because it's mostly just me and my mom--with my moms help, I pass out all the kits myself. I learned that it's a lot of work to coordinate and I have a new respect for people that do. And I've also learned that you never know what's going on in someone's life because it's really surprising who's there when I pass them out at Vineyard. It’s been really interesting.
KH: So besides Connections, is there any other person or organization that you would like to collaborate on this, maybe to make it bigger?
OO: Yeah, we thought about maybe reconnecting with the schools. Definitely Connections for the Homeless, and just continuing Vineyard.
KH: You're doing an amazing job. And it’s just you and your mom that’s amazing within itself.
OO: Thank you.
KH: We have bumped into each other during my Juneteenth pop-up shops, and during one of them we ran out -- but I was supposed to give you one of the Juneteenth books because you told me that you have a YouTube channel. And that you read books children's books [on it]. could you tell us a little bit more about that?
OO: Since we started this new project, it’s been on a downward slope, but I'd like to bring it back. I've been reading children's books and doing math tutorials to help parents during Covid since they're struggling to be teacher and mom and dad at the same time. And I've also been tutoring some students as well. Over Zoom.
KH: So your YouTube channel where you read, you say that it kind of fell off and you trying to pick it back up. Well, I wanted to let you know that I have ordered a Juneteenth book for you and I would love to help and support you get that back up, because I think it's amazing.
Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about your initiative to provide hygiene kits? Is there anything else that we could do for you as a community?
OO: Yes, you can contact us through our Facebook page. You can contact us to drop off in-kind donations at our house, or at Vineyard Church in Evanston, and you can also go to our GoFundMe to donate cash.
KH: So how long do you plan on doing this, Olivia?
OO: I plan on doing it for the remainder of the summer and hopefully continuing into the fall. We'll see how it goes, and the demands.
KH: Well, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with us. I believe you will be getting an extreme amount of support from the community. You’re doing an amazing job and kee