Helping others “in my blood”
Nathan Walden said helping others is in his blood.
Walden, 30, said he grew up in a family where helping those in need was always a focal point.
“We’ve always been involved in philanthropy and helping the community,” Walden said.
As an adult, Walden continues to serve the community through his work as the founder and CEO of Hope Soap Ohio, which sells items such as soaps, shampoos, body washes and lotions. He is also the founder of The Love Truck, a non-profit organization that provides meals, hygiene products and other essentials to the homeless community.
Walden has two Hope Soap stores – one on the Northside Marketplace at 21 Furnace St. in Akron, and the other at 125 Portage Trail in downtown Cuyahoga Falls. There is also a manufacturing facility on Riverfront Parkway in Cuyahoga Falls.
Walden uses the money from Hope Soap sales to help fund the meals he provides to the homeless community once a month through The Love Truck. With every item sold in a Hope Soap store, a bar of soap is donated to the homeless community. Monetary donations for The Love Truck are also accepted at the Cuyahoga Falls Hope Soap store.
How the Love Truck started
Walden said he founded The Love Truck in 2012 after he started attending the ancient Temple of Victory church in Akron.
“There were a lot of people who were homeless there,” said Walden, who now lives in Cuyahoga Falls. “I just met them. I was drawn to them… I would go up and talk to them and strike up a conversation.”
After visiting people in need in Akron, Walden asked some of his friends to help him serve regular meals to the homeless community. In the first round, they packed about 50 take-out lunches and handed out the food to Grace Park in about 20 minutes.
“The need was really great,” Walden said.
More take-out lunches were packed for the next distribution, but Walden said he quickly decided it would be “more profitable” to prepare meals.
He felt it was important to provide people with a hot, home-cooked meal with a menu of items such as chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.
“Calling ourselves The Love Truck, we wanted them to really feel the love in the food, so we tried to serve a good, hearty meal,” Walden said.
During the first five years or so of providing the meals, Walden prepared the food in his home. Officials at Akron’s First Congregational Church on Market Street then allowed Walden and his friends to prepare meals in their commercial kitchen and serve the food in Grace Park.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Walden returned to cooking meals at his home, and he and his volunteers put together take-out food boxes that are being distributed at Grace Park. Items such as socks, soap, toothbrushes, blankets and jackets are also distributed during food delivery.
For six of the past nine years, Walden said he and his volunteers served a meal once a week at Grace Park. Take-out boxes are now distributed to the park to 75 to 150 people once a month.
While the food is scattered, Walden said Kimberly Stimmel – who started the non-profit Closet of Caring from her home in Cuyahoga Falls – is bringing clothes for those in need.
Before the pandemic, Walden also provided a resume writing service when distributing meals and articles. He expects to resume this service for some time once things start to return to normal.
Bring hope with soap
Several years ago, Walden developed a skin condition called dermatitis, which he says is “inflammation of the itchy skin”. After seeing doctors and dermatologists and trying medications that didn’t help, Walden said he made his own soap using natural ingredients and the recipe cured his skin problem.
Until then, Walden had organized fundraisers to get money to buy food and meal supplies which he provided through The Love Truck. Once he created the soap, Walden began selling the product and using the sales money to fund meals and buy items such as socks, toothbrushes, and blankets. In addition to selling the soap, Walden said he decided to give soap to homeless people.
“[The houseless] need a good soap because their skin is not in great shape to sleep outside in the winter, ”said Walden. “Their skin is chapped. Sometimes it is humid where they sleep. They really needed a good soap. “
After selling his products online, at events, and in pop-up stores for a while, Walden opened a Hope Soap Ohio store at the Northside Marketplace on Furnace Street in Akron in 2018, then opened a second store on Portage Trail. in downtown Cuyahoga Falls. in early 2019. A manufacturing facility was opened at one location on Riverfront Parkway, also in Cuyahoga Falls, in October 2020.
Establishing the manufacturing site was important because, said Walden, he previously made the soap in his apartment.
“My apartment was filled with soaps, tables and products in my living room and second bedroom,” Walden said.
Hope Soap sells over 200 products, including soap, shampoo, shower gel, lotions, bath bombs and candles. The products are made from natural ingredients and often have humorous names: one lavender soap goes by the nickname “Calm It Down ‘Sis”.
Walden said his company promotes sustainability through its programs and products. Customers who return a container of product for recycling receive a 10% discount on their next purchase. The packaging used for the soaps “contains wildflower seeds,” Walden said. “You just put it in the ground and it grows wild flowers. There is no waste. “
Hope Soap Ohio’s Facebook page and Instagram will list notices of items needed for upcoming meals and supplies distributions.
Cuyahoga Falls Rotary Club Honors
The Rotary Club of Cuyahoga Falls recently presented Walden with its first ever Business Leadership Award.
On its Facebook page, the Rotary Club of Cuyahoga Falls said that Walden “exhibits high ethical standards in its business practices as well as in its dealings with the community. He supports other businesses by contributing his knowledge, making donations and participating in initiatives in downtown Cuyahoga Falls. . “
“We made hand sanitizer when no one else had it” during the COVID-19 pandemic, Walden said. “We donated over $ 2,500 in hand sanitizer to [Akron and Cuyahoga Falls Police Departments] and to the local homeless community… We kept making it and selling it… when no one else had it.
Philanthropy is a family affair
For Walden, philanthropy has always been a family affair.
“My parents have always done a lot of things in the community,” Walden said.
Walden’s father, James, served as a pastor at The Hill Church in Kent for 24 years, but has since moved to Tennessee. He has two brothers who are also pastors – Jeremy Walden succeeded his father at The Hill Church and Jon Walden serves at Aspinwall Church in Cleveland.
While growing up, Walden said he and his family took missionary trips to Jamaica. Activities included visiting orphanages, distributing food, visiting sick people in their homes, painting houses, and building schools and churches.
Walden said his family had, for more than 30 years, filled a semi-truck with food, clothing, medicine and equipment such as wheelchairs and crutches, then sent the supplies to places like Haiti. and Nigeria. One year, the items were delivered to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
Walden said his grandfather coordinated the project for a long time and his brother Jon took over after their grandfather died.
As he continues his efforts today, Walden said he was “very compassionate” towards homeless people “because someone has to help them.”
He added that he was aware that almost anyone could find themselves in a difficult situation.
“People always think someone made the wrong choice and that’s what happened to them,” Walden said. “But that’s really not the case … I could be at a salary to be homeless. Anyone could be homeless. Anyone could be lucky.”
Walden said his family taught him to “take care of those in need of care and help them get back on their feet.”
“It is the job of every human being.”
Journalist Phil Keren can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @keren_phil.
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