When we launched our line of menstrual care products, a few boxes of unsellable — but still totally untouched and useable — inventory ended up in our office.
Rather than disposing of the products or taking them home for ourselves, we decided to donate them to local shelters near our New York City headquarters.
With CHiPS we mailed a box. Freedom House, however, required a special delivery.
Because Freedom House is a domestic violence shelter, the address is not publicly available. The staff ensure that only guests and volunteers know where it is (Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are in need of their services or want to volunteer). To maintain the safety and privacy of those who stay at Freedom House, we met on a random street corner with Tiffany Williams, one of their volunteers, and handed the box to her.
Soon after, several menstrual care nonprofits emailed us and asked for donations. As we chatted with these employees and shipped more products, we learned more about period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual care products, period education, toilets, hand washing facilities and waste management. In the U.S. alone there are millions of poor, homeless or incarcerated menstruating people who either can’t afford the goods at all or have to choose between food and a clean, relatively comfortable period.
“A box of name brand tampons or pads can run $7-$9 a pop, and when you’re choosing between that and a meal, it seems like a luxury.”
“A box of name brand tampons or pads can run $7-$9 a pop, and when you’re choosing between that and a meal, it seems like a luxury,” said Maddy Siriouthay, Chief Operating Officer at Ovee, a sexual and reproductive health platform.
Organizations like Ovee believe menstrual care products are essentials — just like food — not luxury items. Unfortunately the U.S. government does not share this view, and not everyone is as supportive as we are.
Nina Marciano, Director of The Homeless Period Project DC Chapter, informed us that menstrual supplies are not included in government assistance programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and WIC, despite the latter being specifically for women. Many states still apply what people call a “tampon tax,” a sales tax on menstrual products. This extra cost is sexist and blatantly unfair, considering Viagra isn’t subject to the same tax.
In 2018 a U by Kotex survey found that one in four women struggled to purchase period products because of a lack of income. The survey also measured product donations to charitable organizations.
“Only 6% of respondents had ever donated period products to homeless shelters — but three times more had donated other toiletries,” Siriouthay noted.
Freedom House Assistant Director of Social Services Sara Eldridge said most people don’t expect menstrual care products to be available at shelters. These visitors often save what little money they have to buy overpriced period products at a store. Then they rely on shelters for food.
When people can’t afford menstrual products or don’t receive them from shelters, they are forced to craft makeshift pads and tampons from cotton balls, old rags, cardboard — whatever they can get for free.
“Menstrual care is health, and the lack of access to period products puts theirs in danger,” Siriouthay said.
Even when menstrual care donation campaigns are successful, sometimes the public response is surprisingly critical. When PERIOD. member Anusha Singh founded a chapter in Ohio State University and made the announcement via the school paper, several readers created a Reddit thread that discussed how period poverty was not a “real” issue. One commenter argued that people should not attend college if they can’t afford menstrual care products.
Obviously we have a different perspective.
No one should be left alone to bleed — whether it’s in the street, in a shelter, at home, at work, at school or even in prison. Dealing with poverty, hunger or homelessness is enough of a burden. People in those situations shouldn’t be worrying about menstrual health issues or soiling the few articles of clothing they own.
Like food, water and shelter, menstrual care is a basic physical necessity. If you want to fight in the war against period poverty, support one of the organizations mentioned in this article or donate to a local shelter. You can also vote for politicians who want to expand access to period products.
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