WAUKESHA, Wis. -- You know those small bars of soap and tiny shampoo bottles in your hotel room? Maybe you keep them as a souvenir from your trip, or perhaps you just leave them for the next guest.
Jimmy Bank, the Cubs' traveling secretary, found people who need them.
There are folks who can't afford a bar of soap. There are families that have a tough time buying shampoo because they need to allocate that money toward food.
The Cubs spend more than 80 days in hotels each year, which is a lot of soap and shampoo. For the past two years, Bank has asked the players and staff to donate any unused toiletries, which he ships to the Waukesha Food Pantry, a few miles outside Milwaukee. Those tiny bars and bottles are prized possessions.
"Jimmy said, 'I've got this idea -- what do you think?'" said Karen Tredwell, the pantry's executive director. "I don't know if he realized it, but ... you can't use food stamps for shampoo or conditioner or deodorant or toothpaste or any of that stuff. Even the small travel sizes are seen kind of like gold around here.
"We would never want to replace the volume of food necessary with things like that, so to have people figure out a way to use things they aren't going to use is just really thoughtful."
It's the holiday spirit of giving, but Bank does it all year long. He's taken it another step, and has asked the hotels where the Cubs stay to donate items as well. They've followed through; during the summer, packages of soap and shampoo arrive at the pantry from around the country.
"We've had great notes from people at different hotels saying, 'We were asked by Jimmy at the Cubs organization' and that they hope we still find it useful," Tredwell said. "They're all really tickled to do it."
A hotel in Denver has even started asking other guests to contribute to the Waukesha Food Pantry or to programs in the area.
"It's kind of taken on a life of its own," Tredwell said.
Bullpen coach Lester Strode delivers his unused toiletries at the end of each trip "like clockwork."
"If I have a way of helping them, it takes a little time out of my life to ... put it in a bag and bring it to Jimmy," Strode said. "It takes two seconds. I try to be conscious of it in every hotel I go into. Just take that extra stuff I don't use and give it to someone who can use it."
Strode admits to hoarding the items.
"As soon as I get there, I put stuff in my bag and hide it," he said. "If I don't get it, I'll call and say, 'Housekeeping forgot to leave me stuff' and make them bring it up to me.
"I know it goes for a good cause. It's not like I'm doing it for selfish reasons. I'm doing it for a good cause."
The Waukesha Food Pantry is open six days a week year-round and serves an average of 6,400 people a month. It's one of the larger food pantries in the nation.
And a lot of the people waiting in line for food can't afford a bar of soap.
"Every little bit helps," Strode said. "If it helps them in any kind of way and puts a smile on their face or they can feel clean and fresh, that's great."
Bank makes a pitch to the players during Spring Training about saving the unused hotel items. This year he also reached out to the players to help residents of Tuscaloosa, Ala., which was ravaged by a tornado in April. Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto brought clothes; Darwin Barney saved his unused soap.
"Being on a team like this, you realize you have a lot of outlets and ways you can help people," Barney said. "Jimmy realized that and took the initiative. We all did what we could to help.
"I can't imagine what it's like to have stuff wiped out. If your house gets wiped out, what do you have? The everyday things you have in a hotel room -- they provide you with soap, shampoo that people aren't fortunate enough to have because of a natural disaster like that. We need to do what we can to help them out."
Tredwell tears up talking about a mother who risked losing a new job if she couldn't find disposable diapers so she could leave her child at a day-care center. Bank and his family have focused their donations on helping children.
"You have a donor like Mr. Bank, who comes in and hears the stories and knows how impactful the support can be. They really make a difference," Tredwell said. "He and his family have really done a lot to insure that the children, who I consider our most vulnerable clients, really get what they need."
Bank didn't want this story to be focused on him; he's not doing this for attention, just hoping that others can contribute as well. The 2011 season was his 19th as traveling secretary for the Cubs and his job is, essentially, to take care of others' needs. Tredwell can't thank him enough.
"He had the idea," she said. "He was very modest about it. He said, 'I don't know if this is a good idea, but this is what I was thinking.' I said, 'That's beautiful.'"
Hopefully, it's also contagious. Tredwell recently returned from a trip to Peru, and her fellow vacationers offered their unused shampoo and soap for the pantry as well.
Tredwell has been part of the pantry for 14 years. Her son loves baseball, and she remembers him bringing home a book about Roberto Clemente when he was 5 years old. She read it to him, and when she reached the part about Clemente making donations to those in need, her son started tapping her on her arm.
"He said, 'Mom, I get why you do what you do,'" she said. "He said, 'It's kind of like Roberto Clemente. When people have a lot, it's our job to help those who have a little so it's more fair.'
"For me, as someone who has worked here 14 years, I kind of have seen it all, and I still get so tickled by things like this. Knowing there are people out there who are never going to meet [the people they help] but are willing to make a difference, and care about somebody who really does not have an impact on them but they're insuring that they're making a difference, I love that. That's probably the best part of the job."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.