Nathan Walden had already been feeding folks without homes in Akron for a couple of years when he realized a way to help subsidize the meals. He had created a homemade soap to alleviate his own symptoms of dermatitis, and the results were so effective that people wanted to buy it. He started to make other versions of soaps and skincare products to address various skin issues and sold them at pop-up shops. Word spread, and Hope Soap was born.
When he wasn’t working his full-time job or making meals for those who were homeless, Nathan was busy making soap, lotion, and other products in his apartment. Production, bottling, and boxing required a lot of space. “At one point, I got rid of my furniture,” he says with a laugh. “I had freezers around the wall of my apartment.”
Last year, he opened two Hope Soap stores: one in Akron’s Northside Marketplace and, most recently, one in Cuyahoga Falls. The latter is where he currently makes his products, noting that now he can buy new furniture for his apartment.
A portion of profits from the sale of Hope Soap items helps to cover the cost of the meals that Nathan cooks and distributes from the vehicle he has dubbed The Love Truck. Just like his soaps, the meals are homemade and prepared to perfection, stressing quality over quantity: lasagna and ribs, pork chops and goulash.
These gastronomic feasts were so popular that The Love Truck was at one point serving up to 300 guests a week. However, to continue to provide high-quality meals along with services like clothing and blanket distribution and assistance with resume-writing for job-seekers, Nathan cut the meal service back to once a month. This new schedule makes him even more eager to serve his guests, people with whom he is now friends.
Nathan credits the success of The Love Truck and Hope Soap to understanding bosses who have helped him follow this mission while working full-time, along with a devoted core of friends who help him. They cook and distribute food. They know the recipes for his skincare products. They help out in the store. Next year, friends living in Jamaica will help him start a Hope Soap there, giving residents the opportunity to make, market and sell their own products as they become entrepreneurs.
The son of a pastor, Nathan grew up with an innate desire to make a difference. It seemed only natural to him to bring warm meals to share in Akron’s Grace Park. Before bringing the meals in, though, he checked with the health department and city officials for permission to distribute food. Given the green light, he loaded up The Love Truck and was on his way.
While The Love Truck receives numerous donations of food, clothing and other items, the service is still costly to operate. Hope Soap helps to alleviate some of the financial burden.
All of the products in the Hope Soap line are purposeful. One soap might fight dermatitis, while another treats oily skin. You can find a bath product to reenergize, rescue sore muscles or detox. Moisturizers range from light to heavy, depending on your needs. The line keeps increasing. “We have a pillow spray, a dry shampoo, and natural hair care for African American customers,” Nathan says. This spring, Hope Soap launches 10 body sprays, each inspired by one of his close friends.
In addition to the two Hope Soap stores, products are sold online and at a few salons in Northeast Ohio. Nathan’s goal is to have a presence in stores like Mustard Seed Market, Whole Foods, and Target.
Even as he thinks of new ways to expand Hope Soap’s offerings, Nathan remains committed to filling The Love Truck with good food and helpful items. For every Hope Soap item that is sold, a bar of soap is given to someone without a home. As he sees it, Hope Soap and The Love Truck share a common purpose: “It’s hope for your skin and hope for someone else.”
To learn more, visit hopesoapohio.org, or stop by one of the Hope Soap shops at 21 Furnace St. in Akron and 125 Portage Trail in Cuyahoga Falls. Contact Nathan if you’re interested in volunteering: email@example.com.