Clean Hands TO currently operates 10 volunteer-run hand washing stations around the city. Their founder, Josh Kanakaratnam, tells CJRU how they got started, what it takes to keep Clean Hands TO running, & where the team plans to go next.
When the messaging for COVID-19 prevention was centred around hand washing, Kanakaratnam wanted to make hand hygiene more accessible to Torontonians. He was inspired by an Atlanta organization, Love Beyond Walls, doing similar work in their community. Kanakaratnam was able to team up with Love Beyond Walls to fund the first two hand washing stations. From there, Kanakaratnam spread the word of Clean Hands TO exclusively on Instagram and local Torontonians rallied behind the project. He currently works with a team of volunteers and the community has funded an additional eight hand washing stations on Go Fund Me. While retelling the story, he adds that the price of hand washing stations skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic.
“Regularly, these would be $80 for a station but at the height of the pandemic they went up to $1000. People were hoarding them, selling them on Amazon and eBay. The average price that we were able to get them at was closer to $200 each,” he says.
Kanakaratnam explains that the station is portable, self-contained and intended for camping. Water is dispensed through a foot pump and it costs about $30 monthly to stock each station with soap and distribute gloves and masks for the volunteers that maintain it. He notes that the Clean Hands TO partners are another important element to the initiative. Partners house the stations on their property and many of the stations are currently on the Anglican Church Network’s property.
While Kanakaratnam is happy to do this work with his community, he is aware that accessible hand hygiene in the midst of a pandemic should be the city’s responsibility. While the city has praised and admired his work, he hopes that they’ll take a more active role in hand hygiene or at least make it easier for Clean Hands to continue what they’re doing. This frustration is a shared feeling among Toronto’s community initiatives such as Building Roots and the Encampment Support Network. Nevertheless, Kanakaratnam and the Clean Hands TO team are continuing their efforts. Looking forward, he says their primary focus will be navigating the winter months and the hand washing stations’ wear and tear.
“They’re designed for people to go camping. Like hey I’m camping right now, I’ll take the sink out now, then I’ll disassemble it and put it away. And that’s not the same use-case that we’re working with,” he says.
Kanakaratnam has also applied for funding to design a hand washing station that is better suited for their needs. He hopes to develop a smart hand washing station that can track usage as well as disease spread from run-off water. As the city enters its second lockdown, accessible hand hygiene will be critical as Torontonians do their best to protect themselves from COVID-19.
To hear more from Josh Kanakaratnam, listen to the interview below.