Agency trades gum ball machine idea for envelopes in its condom giveaway

July 28, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The idea of a giant gum ball machine to dispense condoms in little plastic eggs is dead -- but not for any obvious reason.

The Carroll County Department of Social Services (DSS) still plans to make condoms available, free, to clients interested in preventing pregnancy or disease.

Instead of the original idea of a machine in the DSS restroom, however, the agency is planning to package the condoms in discreet envelopes in a basket in the waiting room, said director M. Alexander Jones. He said the program could be in operation this fall.

The agency is on a waiting list to get the condoms from the state.

A few months ago, he had proposed making free condoms available. His counterparts in Frederick and Howard county DSS offices have been doing this for years.

"The board and I deliberated over how to make these condoms available in the least offensive and the most helpful way," he said.

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provides condoms through a "Three for Free" program. The Carroll County Health Department provides them in baskets at its offices on Washington Road.

But DSS clients may not regularly go to the health department, so Mr. Jones considered offering the condoms at DSS offices at the Barrelhouse on Distillery Drive in Westminster.

Several county, state and private social services are based in the building.

In the interest of discretion and other considerations, Mr. Jones had suggested hanging modified, no-money vending machines in the restrooms that would more privately dispense a condom or three at the turn of a knob.

That's when logistics got in the way.

The machines, similar to those that dispense tampons and pads, would work only with little boxes, which would hold three condoms each. Mr. Jones didn't have the money to buy hundreds of boxes, nor the staff to tear off each condom package from a long perforated roll provided by the state.

Also, hanging the machines on the ceramic tiles was going to be a problem, he said. So he looked into other ideas.

"This gets funny," he said, describing the "giant bubble-gum machine, where you get a plastic egg and you open it and pull out a toy."

Still, there was the problem of buying the plastic eggs, not to mention sweeping up the ones clients might discard around and outside the building.

The compromise will still have staff or volunteers stuffing envelopes with three condoms each. But they'll go low-tech and put the envelopes in a basket in the waiting room.

Mr. Jones will also provide a pamphlet that stresses abstinence but includes several forms of contraception. If the pamphlet can't fit into the envelope with the condoms, it might be placed on a rack near them.

While the presence of receptionists could intimidate some clients from reaching for three, the same presence also will prevent someone from taking the whole basket or vandalizing the condoms, he said.

Mr. Jones said that could happen as a prank or as a message from people who believe distributing the condoms encourages promiscuity.

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