OPINION: Providing dignity to women suffering period poverty

Jessica Sacks, co-chair of Project Dignity, shows off thousands of boxes of menstrual products she and volunteers collected. Courtesy of Jessica Sacks

Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Sacks

Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Sacks

Jessica Sacks, co-chair of Project Dignity, shows off thousands of boxes of menstrual products she and volunteers collected. Courtesy of Jessica Sacks

You’d think every woman could afford to buy menstrual products if she needed them. Even if they were poor, you’d think that would be the least of their worries.

Feminine pads and tampons, after all, aren’t something on most women’s wish list, something we just want. They’re something every woman of a certain age needs. Like food and water.

And yet, for a great number of women here and across the country — those living in poverty, those down on their luck and struggling to make ends meet — the cost of menstrual products is just another burden on an already stretched budget.

I used to think this was a problem unique to developing countries like India or Uganda or Nicaragua.

In 2013, I met Lorrie King, the “period lady,” and boy did she school me.

In some developing countries, women were forced to live outdoors during their periods.

Gail Pennington, manager of the food pantry at the Sandy Springs Community Assistance Center, assured me the other day that things are pretty bad for a lot of women here, too.

Hardly a day goes by when she doesn’t encounter a woman or two among the canned goods and dry food items at the north Fulton pantry searching, hoping for menstrual products.

“You think of Sandy Springs as being a very affluent area, but we still have quite a number of homeless and families just struggling to get by,” Pennington said. “We get a lot of food and sometimes feminine products, but there was never enough.”

There may never be enough, but thanks to the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the center has more to give than it had.

Yael Sherman is director of the Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

Credit: Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

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Credit: Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta

According to Yael Sherman, director of the federation’s Women’s Philanthropy, the nonprofit began collecting the products after two of its members heard about the need two years ago while attending a conference.

Research has shown that poor women often have difficulty purchasing period products when needed.

In a recent study in St. Louis, led by Saint Louis University, 2 out of 3 women were found to have gone without menstrual products at least once during a year while 21% went without the products on a monthly basis.

To make do, the women said they used cloth, rags, tissues, toilet paper, and sometimes even diapers or paper towels taken from public bathrooms.

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, Sherman said the Women’s Philanthropy collected 200 boxes of product then decided it wanted to do more.

“We didn’t want to just have it be a one-off,” she said. “We decided to make it a yearlong effort.”

The women partnered with NextGen, the federation’s young adult division, and in late July launched Project Dignity. In just a month and a half, the 200 or so women collected 19,999 pads, 51,581 tampons, and 9,920 panty liners. Volunteers then made 1,000 period packs, quart-size bags with enough pads and tampons for one week.

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The products were donated recently to its six partner organizations: Our House Decatur, Securus House, Atlanta Children’s Shelter, CHRIS 180, the Drake House — and the Sandy Springs Community Assistance Center.

They aren’t done. Women’s Philanthropy will host another donation drive for menstrual products in January.

Pennington told me she was overjoyed when the community center received its bounty.

“If you don’t have money for things like transportation or food, how will you have money for other things?” she asked. “Imagine your life if you can’t take care of that issue. How do you even go out to work or to school? Those of us who have a job or haven’t been sick, we don’t have a concept of the impact of this on other people’s lives. Just to know you can give someone pads or tampons, that’s a big deal. We have people cry sometimes because they didn’t know what they were going to do.”

And yet all over this country, many of us take this basic need for granted.

You’d think we’d know better.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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