SOUTH KINGSTOWN – All across the state, people are donating to a cause that will help lift girls and women out of period poverty. Although the issue is rarely spoken of and often overlooked, menstrual products are out of reach for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders due to lack of accessibility and affordability.
This year, in order to begin addressing the issue and spark awareness among the community, Rhode Island Coalition of Labor Union Women Chair Maureen Martin helped launch the Help a Sister Out PERIOD Campaign.
According to Martin, menstrual products like tampons and pads are the most commonly requested non-food item at food banks. It’s something most people would never think to donate along with cans of soup or loaves of bread, she said.
“There are tens of thousands of people living in poverty in this state, and they struggle to put food on their plates,” Martin said. “You can imagine that the cost of menstrual products is really such a huge, extra burden for them.”
Every month, women miss days of school and work because of the lack of accessibility or affordability of these products, which Martin said is unacceptable.
“Nobody should have to be missing out on important life things like school and work,” she said. “Here we have people who are already living in poverty, and you know there’s bound to be some shame attached to that – which there shouldn’t be – and now they can’t afford these products for a simple life function that also, unfortunately, still carries a lot of shame.”
So far the group’s first-ever menstrual equity drive has been able to collect 50,000 individual products, which will help supply over 2,000 girls and women for a month.
“It sounds like such a huge number, doesn’t it?” Martin said. “But it’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s like nothing compared to the tens of thousands of women [living in poverty]. Even if you cut the number of people living in poverty in half and say half of them are women or girls of menstrual age, it’s still tens of thousands of people.”
Apart from helping to bring products to those in need, Martin said the campaign has played an important role in just opening up language and dialogue around the issue.
“There shouldn’t be any shame about having your period,” Martin said.
Collections are being taken up statewide through this weekend, as well as right here in South Kingstown. The Collective, an independently run bookstore in Peace Dale that works with the community to address a number of issues, has been welcoming donations.
“I’m always impressed by South Kingstown and people’s generosity,” said Sarah Markey, one of the owners of The Collective. She estimates that donations from the community have brought in 60 items so far as of last week.
Like Martin, Markey is proud to not only be taking in donations, but also starting conversations about the issue as well.
“It’s incredible to watch people donate items at the Collective and elsewhere, but also just the conversation about menstrual health,” she said. “It’s one of those topics that people don’t want to talk about, but we actually need to because it impacts women, girls and some transgender friends.”
For Markey, the campaign has felt deeply personal, and it’s part of the reason the Collective has been so excited and eager to hop on board.
“I grew up in a working class, really poor family tight on money,” Markey said. “When me and my sisters hit middle school, it was hard for my mom to even buy tampons. I know that sounds hard for some people to believe or understand what it’s like when you have economic insecurity, but that was the reality for us.”
The Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale, which serves hundreds of local households who struggle to meet their basic needs, also helps provide high school students with toiletries, snacks, and hygiene products that their families may not be able to afford on a consistent basis through Jonny’s Locker program.
On Tuesday, all donations were brought to the Rhode Island Food Bank for a special event in honor of National Menstrual Health Day. Jonnycake Center Executive Director Kate Brewster was one of the featured speakers.
“This project is so important because this is an unspoken but critically important need for women yet not something people are likely to donate or women are likely to ask for help with,” Brewster wrote via email correspondence. “We thank the women and men who stepped up and launched this drive and look forward to being able to provide more period products through our pantry.”
For those who would still like to donate to the campaign, the group is still welcoming monetary donations through its GoFundMe page, as well as in-person product donations via the Collective or at the Rhode Island AFL-CIO in Providence.