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Soup, salvation, and soap

Major Misty Simco started making homemade soap to save money on purchases of her husband’s favorite “man bars.” Those specialty soaps, from companies like Dr. Squatch, cost around $7 for a five-ounce bar.

“Right before COVID, we decided that maybe we could do this ourselves and so we started doing research. I bought a ‘Soap for Beginners’ book and we got started,” says Simco, who leads the Salvation Army corps in Portsmouth, Ohio, with her husband, Major Dan Simco.

That was the beginning of “Simmy Soaps,” that pictured on the label the couple’s two young daughters in a bathtub with soap suds up to their chins. Soap-making has become popular with some Salvation Army officers, who are looking to save money, sometimes help the poor in their communities, and raise money for World Services.

Through her research, Simco learned that water is the key ingredient in soap-making, and she also uses lye and sodium hydroxide, which can be found in the plumbing department at Walmart. She then adds such ingredients as lard, olive oil, coconut oil, and essential oils.

“That’s pretty much the basic recipe. Depending on what we need the soap for and what we want it to smell like, we buy essential oils. The key is following the directions because the lye can be dangerous.”

Simco said her homemade soaps also helped family members with sensitive skin. She found that the popularity of her soaps soon grew from just her family to people in the corps and beyond.

“It just started out as a hobby,” Simco said. “We really enjoy doing it. We give it away for Christmas gifts to our staff and to our family, who loves it. Whenever our children come home to visit, they grab soaps and take them.”


Quality time together

Finding time for soap-making amid her busy schedule as a Salvation Army officer can be difficult, but Simco said she and her husband carve out blocks of time in the evenings and weekends. The process begins by mixing water and lye outside for 45 minutes before any other ingredients are added.

“It then has to sit for six to eight weeks before it can be used,” she said.

Simco said one of her love languages is spending quality time with her husband, which is the reason why his help with “Simmy Soaps” is so special.

“It’s really enhancing and building on our marriage and our relationship,” she said. “It really is a good time to work together and not think about things that our Salvation Army life is sending our way. It allows us to escape for about an hour.

“It definitely has given us time together, and we’re making a functional product that we didn’t realize would help other people.”

Simco said her bars costs about $1.25 each to produce. She asks for only a $3 donation per bar when she sells them.

“We don’t make any money off of them, obviously, as Salvation Army officers,” she said. “Our net proceeds all go to World Services. I just put the donations that we get right back into making more soap.”

Captain Barri Vazquez-Muhs, an assistant corps officer at the Manhattan, N.Y., Citadel, admits her foray into the soap-making hobby was “random.” She also makes lotion for herself and shaving cream for her husband, Captain Erik Muhs.

“I just like making all-natural things,” Vazquez-Muhs says. “I got started because I really love essential oils and wanted to do something with them. Essential oils are the biggest expense. One day, I decided I wanted to try soap and I looked it up on Pinterest.”

Vazquez-Muhs likes to include ingredients in her creations, including coconut, goat’s milk, shea butter, vanilla extract, dried lavender leaves, citrus, shaved lemon lime and oranges, vitamin E oil, and, of course, essential oils.

“Making soap is not particularly hard, but it’s time-consuming and I use lots of ingredients. That’s what I’m going for,” she said. “It’s a pretty expensive hobby because you have to buy all the stuff, but I enjoy it, so I don’t worry about the time that it takes. When I make big batches for a lot of people, it takes me weeks because I can only do it for so long and they must sit overnight.”


In high demand

Vazquez-Muhs gave her first batch of homemade soaps away as Christmas gifts and they were a huge success.

“People responded well to it and called to ask for more,” she said. “Then I just made it my full hobby. Now, people contact me and ask me to make them.”

Vazquez-Muhs advertised on social media that she was making soaps for Easter and Mother’s Day. She made 30 bars for a Mother’s Day Tea at the corps this year and later produced bars featuring Easter scents of lavender, vanilla, and citrus.

“That’s where it really took off,” she said. “People who ordered them for Christmas gifts wanted them for other holidays. I love that other people want them and use them.”

Vazquez-Muhs said she finds a spiritual connection in soap-making because it connects mind, body, and soul.

“It’s a stress reliver for me and it’s good for mental health,” she said. “The essential oils that I’m using make me feel better.”

Making the soaps also enhances her spiritual gift of serving, which is her love language.

“It makes me feel good to know that there are people out there who like this product. It’s people who I love and care about, so it’s a wholesome, holistic, and fulfilling thing for me personally,” she said.

After the Mother’s Day Tea, some corps members asked her to make more. So she decided it will now be an annual event and give the money to World Services. She only charges $3 a bar to cover the cost of ingredients, many of which are all-natural.

Captain Dorothy Budd started making soap when it became scarce in Alliance, Ohio, during COVID-19.

She found lye at a local hardware store and oils from Walmart. She was thankful that the items were still in stock. Budd said soap-making became a good distraction from working so much during the pandemic.

“It’s definitely getting back to soup, soap, and salvation,” Budd said, who remembered the original mantra of Salvation Army Founder William Booth.


A spiritual message

Budd said she “watched tons and tons of YouTube videos” and with “a little bit of chemistry,” she whipped up about 400 bars to give away to the community during the pandemic.

“While they were not perfect in any way, shape or form, they were useful,” she said. “It gave me a bit of hope that, even though I wasn’t making top-of-the-line soap bars, they could still be useful and helpful to people who were needing these items in our community.

“The time I spent making soap gave me something else to focus on when everything was going crazy in the world. It was good knowing people could wash their hands in the absence of hand sanitizer or alcohol.”

Budd gave the bars away with a note that compared her imperfect soap to the imperfect souls of people. “We don’t have to be perfect to come to Him to find salvation,” she wrote.

“He makes all things useful and new,” Budd said. “That was the message.”

Budd said the Holy Spirit gave her a time of solitude, peace, quiet, and focus as she made soap. While the pandemic raged, it also threatened the health of her husband, Captain Shane Budd, who has underlying conditions.

“As I was making this soap, I could also see how God was working” Dorothy Budd said. “He was providing different avenues to be able to reach out to people in ways that I never would have imagined. We’re not in the 1800s making soap for people anymore, but here we are with all this technology and God is still using different ways for us to reach people.”

by Robert Mitchell