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West Des Moines Boy Runs Hygiene Drive For Refugee Children

Gavin Anderson, eight and a half, poses for a photo in front of the supplies for his hygiene drive. It has taken over the entire dining room, so he and his family no longer eat in there.
Kate Anderson
Gavin's Mom
Gavin Anderson, 8 1/2, poses for a photo in front of the supplies for his hygiene drive. It has taken over the entire dining room, so he and his family no longer eat in there.

Gavin Anderson points to each area of his dining room.

"Let's head over to the front," he said as he walks around the long table. "Here's hand sanitizer, toothpaste, hand wash scrub."

Gavin Tour.mp3
Gavin Anderson gives me a tour of all of his supplies.

He walked in a slow circle as he showed all of the supplies he has gathered for his hygiene drive. There are baskets full of toothpaste, toothbrushes and all other sorts of hygiene products. His “toilet paper tower” almost reaches his dining room ceiling.

He stopped the tour and his blue eyes narrowed on a toilet paper roll out of place in the wrong basket. He hopped up on a chair and gently set the roll at the top of the tower.

Gavin, who is 8 1/2 years old (not 8), started this drive after his school did a similar project. He told his mom Kate Anderson he wanted to do more for kids in need. He said it's because many times, kids don't have as much as grown-ups do.

Anderson said her son started out simply by donating "I think a bottle of shampoo or toilet paper or something." When the next drive started, Gavin advanced to donating around ten bags of items. But he thought that still wasn't enough, so he started his own drive.

“I decided to do it. And then I did it. And then I said let’s keep on going. So we went and keeped [sic] on going," Gavin said with a shrug.

He now has more than 4,000 supplies to donate. They can't even eat in the dining room anymore. Anderson referred to it as a "warehouse."

When refugees resettle in Iowa, they get around three months of support. According to Des Moines Refugee Support's Facebook page, they attempt to "fill in the gaps." Gavin got his mom’s help to partner with the organization to fill local refugee students’ backpacks at the end of July. They'll donate any leftovers to West Des Moines school districts, Gavin's district.

“I loved it. I've always wanted to instill giving into my kids. So when he came to me I'm like, let's do this. Let's run with it. So here we are in it exploded, which is phenomenal. I'm so excited because that just means we can donate to more kiddos," Anderson said.

A study this year found Des Moines was among some of the most welcoming places for refugees. The city was considered a "success story," which Gavin could be contributing to.

He's been teaching his 6-year-old brother about his project, and he plans to try to run hygiene drives every year. Anderson said if anyone is looking for how to donate to message her on Facebook. Now, she and Gavin are looking for more hair products specifically for Black hair, as well as socks and underwear.

"I am unbelievably proud of Gavin for doing this. I have always known he has a heart of gold. And he's a unique little boy," Anderson said.

And Gavin said he’s excited to make new friends in the process.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines