In a winter that’s included nearly two straight precipitation-free months and two consecutive weeks of subzero temperatures, perhaps you have already considered lip balm more than ever before.
Mindy Diller’s relationship with it is strong. She’s signed up for the Lincoln Half-Marathon, and logs miles outside with her running group, regardless of the conditions. The basic black vial of ChapStick is her go-to.
One of her running partners, Lisa Janssen, is a Burt’s Bees brand loyalist.
“The classic,” she said. “No taste. No nothing.”
In the winter, she keeps three of them in her orbit — one in the car, one in the purse, one in the gym bag.
Janssen is also the program administrator at the Gathering Place, a haven for the working poor, homeless and anyone who walks inside the brick home at 1448 E St. and wants dinner, no questions asked.
During this recent frigid spell, Janssen said, one guest on two occasions asked if there was a tube of lip balm available in the supply closet. The Gathering Place often offers more than dinner to its guests — there are donated toiletries and household items like paper towels available to take home. So it wasn’t an out-of-the-blue request, Janssen said, but they didn’t have any balm to offer.
Janssen shared this with Diller, who’s a Gathering Place volunteer. That got Diller thinking about a product many people don’t have to think about.
“If you don’t have any money, that’s not what you’re going to buy,” she said during a phone call from Lux Middle School, where she’s a teacher. While she was talking, someone stopped by with a delivery for her.
“Someone just came into the office with a bunch of ChapStick and just threw it in the bag,” Diller said.
Diller has led several supply drives for the Gathering Place since she began volunteering there about a year ago. They’ve all been centered around feminine hygiene products, a need she said women shouldn’t have to go without. She centered her last birthday party around such a donation drive. She gets into it.
“This month," she said, "I’m passionate about the lip balm.”
Her effort started with a request to friends on her Facebook page and a minimal expectation.
“I thought it would just get a few dozen ChapSticks and it would be great to help out some people,” she said. “It’s more than I thought it would be.”
On Jan. 6, she put out a request to a larger Facebook group page, called Make Lincoln Kind Again.
“Hello kind Lincoln people!” Diller wrote. “I’m a regular volunteer of the Gathering Place soup kitchen in Lincoln. The other day I was chatting with my friend who is the coordinator there and she mentioned that the guests often ask for ChapStick and they never have any to give out. During these gross winter months, who doesn’t need a tube of ChapStick?!?!”
The response to the simple request has been borderline seismic. Name a balm — Blistex, Carmex, Chap-Ice — or any conceivable flavor of ChapStick — classic strawberry, tropical paradise, sugar cookie — and Diller's cache collected so far this month boasts it.
A sixth grade class at Lux has made lip balm collecting a mission. Strangers have sent bulk orders of balm from Amazon to Diller's home. The Lincoln Running Company offered to put out a box to accept donations at 1213 Q St., and owner Ann Ringlein, who teaches a marathon training class, assigned the donation drive to the class, which Diller is enrolled in, as “homework.”
"Our good friend Mindy is doing a ‘ChapStick Drive’ for the Gathering Place!” she wrote to the group. “Drop off new ChapStick you would like to donate! Think about it ... how many ChapSticks do you personally have? These people would like 1 — 1 ChapStick!”
Ringlein said the shop has been receiving multiple Amazon packages this week, which never happens. Upon receipt, store employees have correctly hypothesized that they are full of lip balm and added the offerings to the balm box.
At Diller’s home, the collection grew so big she moved it out into the open after trying to store it inside a single closet, though she said an unexpected donation of 20 paper towel rolls was what finally pushed it past the brink.
“I think it shows that the people of Lincoln are very caring and willing to help out, even if it’s super-small things,” Diller said.
The Gathering Place served meals to 105 guests on Jan. 10, and Janssen said the number of those served each evening tends to grow as each month concludes.
“One of the things I notice in the winter is people are coming for not only food, but also warmth,” she said.
Due to the balm avalanche that’s accumulated so far this month, the guests at the Gathering Place will soon get more than one stick of lip balm apiece, Janssen said. Maybe a lot more.
She said they’ll likely initially invite guests at the end of the meal line to take two lip balms for themselves and a few more to give out to people they know who, like them, have been managing this winter without a basic protection against the elements.
“I think we’ll let people share a little bit,” Janssen said. “It makes the day a little better. I should say, a lot better.”
Donations will be collected at Lincoln Running Company through the end of January. Janssen said the response so far means there will likely be enough lip balm left over to stockpile some for next winter, even if February proves to be as miserably cold as the forecast suggests it will.
Donations can also be mailed to or dropped off at the main office of Community Action, 210 O St., Lincoln, NE 68508, which runs the Gathering Place. And they don't have to be lip balm. Prior to the lip balm drive, the Gathering Place staff and volunteers collected hats and gloves to pass out at dinners.
"It’s always wonderful to get donations that help through winter months," Janssen said.