Sabra Wood can’t close the hatchback of her car, stuffed as ‘it is with soaps swiped from the Lenox Hotel in Paris, shower caps lifted from a Mexican resort and shampoo snagged from a London hotel. But Wood, 50, isn’t actually stealing anything. She’s more like the Robin Hood of toiletries, taking the freebies handed out by hotels and airplanes and then, through her nonprofit program Sample Soap, giving them to the needy in Rochester, N.Y., where she lives. “You can’t get toiletries with food stamps,” says Wood, a software tester at Xerox. “You can’t get tampons, toothpaste or soap.”
The idea was born in 1990, when Wood heard that rock bands were giving away toiletries picked up on tours. “I thought, ‘I don’t know rock bands, but I know lots of suits who travel,’ ” she recalls. So Wood, who has an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan, prevailed upon a few of her fellow Xerox executives to donate their travel loot. A decade and 13 tons of toiletries later, her collection buckets blanket not only Xerox headquarters but area libraries and beauty salons. Even the hotel chains whose toiletries Wood collects have been agreeable. “We contacted a few and the answer was clear: ‘You rent the room, you buy the toiletries,’ ” she says.
And to the women of Sojourner House, one of 50 Rochester charities Wood supplies, the items are a godsend. “The women come in with just the clothes on their backs,” says shelter president Germaine Knapp. “This adds to increasing their self-esteem.” Wood recalls receiving a note that told just how much: “It said, ‘Thank you for the perfume. My husband says I’m beautiful.’ ”