Sharing God's love, one bar of soap at a time

8/17/2014

Jean Henry is a seraph of suds, a cherub of cleanliness.

As the mother of an incarcerated son, she knows that those locked inside the walls of a prison sometimes feel forgotten by the outside world.

For the past four years, Henry, a member of Westview United Methodist Church in Blakely, has worked tirelessly to show Christ’s love to “the least of these” by collecting full size Dial soap bars and distributing them to prisoners.

While the state supplies some toiletry items to inmates, it often is not enough, and prisoners have to rely on family or friends to provide the rest.

Introduced to the inmate’s need for soap and the idea of a soap drive during a Kairos weekend, Henry works through Family Unification Network, Inc. (F.U.N.), a non-profit organization that educates parents, youth, churches, schools and communities on how to sustain the family unit in the midst of life's circumstances.

“When I retired I wanted to do volunteer work but I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “So I … prayed about it and went and talked to my preacher and asked if he thought I could make a difference. He said that I could, and that’s how I got started.”

Last Christmas, Henry’s desire to make a difference helped Family Unification Network donate more than 30,000 bars of Dial soap to 18 women’s and men’s prisons located throughout Georgia.

It was during an early visit to Lee Arrendale State Prison – Georgia’s largest facility for women – that really solidified Henry’s involvement. During that trip, she helped hand out more than 5,000 bars of soap to 1,700 women.

“They came in lines with their laundry bags and went table to table to get what they could,” Henry said. “I talked to a lot of them and hugged them, and one girl hugged me back and said, ‘This is a real hug,’ and wouldn’t let me go. Another one thanked me and said that she didn’t have any family and had no way to get anything but what the state gives them.”

This year she hopes to collect 10,000 bars of soap. She shares her passion as she speaks to churches, Sunday school classes, small groups, civic organizations, and anyone who is willing to help. With just a few months left in the year, Henry still needs nearly 7,000 bars to reach her goal.

During soap sorting parties – the prison system only accepts full-size Dial bar soap, which works best with their water systems – Henry and her friends gather to place stickers on each bar and sort them into their various scents.

“There are nine different fragrances for the ladies and others for the men, and we go into the boxes and separate them,” she said. “The men don’t want to smell like peaches and lavender!”

A recent sorting session included members of three area churches. The group sorted, labeled and packaged 2,000 bars of soap. On each bar is placed one sticker with a Bible verse and another with the name of the donating church or organization.

“I can’t do this without my church or community,” Henry said. “They have been marvelous.”

In the four years that Henry has been involved with the prison soap ministry she’s donated or helped facilitate the giving of 12,549 bars of soap. But it’s the individuals she meets – in prison and out – that have touched her life.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” she said. “We hug the women, we cry with them, we hear their stories. We can’t save souls but He can … so if we do what God wants us to do, He will do His part.”

For more information about the ministry or to help Henry reach her 10,000 bar goal, contact her at jeancarolhenry@yahoo.com.