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Everyday Heroes: Rachel Johnson

Period Project at UGA

Rachel Johnson gathered menstrual products on a recent evening at the University of Georgia. The tampons, pads, wipes and painkillers were for “packing parties,” where more than two dozen students worked together in a classroom to create kits for its approximately 22 community partners to distribute to those in need.

Johnson emphasized this party was to provide the organizations — Athens Area Homeless Shelter, Adventure Bags and the Sparrow’s Nest — with the products for their upcoming drives.

The Period Project at UGA hosts monthly packing events, which has responded to the demand for feminine hygiene products as inflation has driven up prices. The number of kit requests has increased from 200 to 395 since the COVID-19 pandemic, said Johnson, a fourth-year student who is the organization’s co-president.

Credit: Rachel Johnson

Credit: Rachel Johnson

“We always get a lot of comments from our community partners about just how much us helping them (with kits) helps the people that they serve,” Johnson said. “Sometimes we pack the kits and drop them off to them, but it’s good to hear and know just how many people we’re serving, and to know that we are truly making a big impact.”

The Period Project works to impact the lives of those who struggle to find menstrual supplies, and to educate the public on their needs. Johnston didn’t know about the severity of period poverty in Athens and across the country until she became lab partners with Areeba Hashmi. They became the group’s co-presidents earlier this year.

One in 10 college women are unable to afford menstrual products each month, according to a study published in January 2021 by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. Researchers found that 14.2% of college women have experienced period poverty in the past year.

UGA’s chapter is part of the national group that advocates for menstrual inequities to be addressed at the federal level. Advocates say menstrual products should be identified as necessities exempt from sales taxes and eligible for government help. These products are listed as a luxury in 35 states and subject to taxes.

“It has really opened my eyes,” Johnson said. “I’ve lived a very privileged life where I’ve never had issues with menstrual inequity.”

Johnson lived in Lagos, Nigeria, as a teenager, where the menstrual products are structured differently than American ones and weren’t as suitable for her.

“I was able to buy six months’ worth of period products to take back with me to Nigeria for school,” she said, adding that it’s “a reality that people don’t have.”

Motivated by the chance to further educate others, Johnson and Hashmi decided they wanted to play a bigger part together in the Period Project at UGA. Johnson said she wants to make the space for those who experience a lack of access to menstrual products and to have a better understanding of the barriers.

“We do everything together, like everyone has their roles, and everyone does what they need to do,” said Jenae Brown, the group’s secretary. “But the organization would not work at all if we didn’t work together.”

Johnson can’t put an exact number on how many lives are impacted per packing party, but she said she’s received up to 400 requests. Some products have been donated by UGA fraternities and sororities.

“She’s a strong leader, but at the same time, she’s very gentle,” said Gabriela Jones, who works with Johnson. “She’s not intimidating and posing, but at the same time, you know she’s in charge.”

Johnson to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and stay in Athens to pursue her master’s degree in order to work in the renewable energy field.

“I just always want to be someone who helps support them in any way that I can and support them in voicing what has happened and what they know,” she said.

HOW TO HELP

To donate products to the Period Project at UGA, click here.


WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT

This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special – and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.

Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why we worked closely with our partners to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.

We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead. We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.

And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.

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