“How can you shelter at home without a home?” posited Niels Nielsen, founder of the Corvallis Portable Handwashing Station Project. “How can you wash your hands while singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice if you’ve got no water? That’s how this project started.”
Nielsen, a former HP employee of nearly three decades – known as a “gonzo engineer” to his peers – started the Portable Handwashing Station Project in early March, anticipating how dire the COVID-19 crisis would become.
The eponymous handwashing stations were born out of Nielsen’s desire to provide access opportunities for better hygiene for those who need them, mostly dropping off handwashing stations at homeless shelters, camps, and workplaces without consistent access to running water.
The stations are made using 55-gallon drum barrels, 5-gallon buckets, and PVC pipes. Over the past month, the design has gone through five revisions, with the current design being available online for those interested in making their own.
Since its inception, the project has gained a large amount of traction. “We’ve currently got 13 stations in Corvallis, four in Lebanon and Sweet Home, and two in Salem,” said Nielsen.
“It feels good to be doing this,” said volunteer coordinator Suzanne Doyle, following up Nielsen’s statement. “Whenever we drop off a handwashing station, it gets used almost immediately! It shows that people want to take care of themselves, and that they just need the tools to do so.”
Looking to the future, the PHSP is set to partner with some other notable organizations in order to have a bigger impact on various Oregon communities:
“One of the things that we’re most excited about is our partnership with the COVID Response Collective here in Corvallis. They’ve got a warehouse in Philomath, and are preparing to mass produce the handwashing stations.”
“We’re also working [with] the UPS!” said Doyle. “Since hand sanitizer is so hard to come by, we’re working on a smaller variant of the handwashing station that delivery drivers can keep in their mail trucks. We hope to be able to supply enough of the smaller stations for around 43 delivery drivers to use.”
With all these exciting and potentially lifesaving expansions in the project’s future, Nielsen and Doyle are also looking to expand the project and take on more volunteers.
“It’d be great to get more help with the project,” said Nielsen. “I’m getting old, and a lot of our stations are set up off the beaten path, which means that we often have to carry our cleaning and refilling supplies for a while before getting to them. It’s heavy stuff!”
“We’d love to have people adopt certain handwashing stations,” Nielsen continued. “Having groups of volunteers maintain and refill stations close to their homes would be a big help.”
That’s not to say that the community members aren’t already getting involved! Nielsen and Doyle wanted to end the interview by giving a shout out to the many groups that are stepping up in this time of crisis, such as the COVID Response Collective, the Corvallis Sewing Brigade, and Benton County Recovers.
By Thomas Nguyen