I remember the day clearly, especially what I was wearing. I was in high school and Umbro shorts were all the rage. If you don’t remember these, they were a thin nylon/polyester short, usually in wild colors. I think they were originally made for soccer players, but seeing how I hadn’t played soccer since I was five years old, I was more concerned about the cool factor, than the practicality of these shorts.
I remember a classmate whispering in my ear that I had a stain on my shorts and might want to go check it out. I went to the bathroom and discovered what every girl-of-a-certain-age dreads discovering: I’d started my period a few days early. At school, and without any sanitary products. My coveted Umbro shorts were ruined and I was totally embarrassed.
Looking back now, I realize I was lucky. Not only was I able to go home where I had a change of clean clothes and big box of tampons waiting, but I had a washing machine to try and salvage my favorite pair of shorts.
According to a 2016 HUD Report there are approximately 220,000 homeless women in the United States, and 50,000 of these women are between the ages of 18-24. These women do not have those same conveniences I did and while getting my period early was a nuisance, for these women it can become an issue that keeps them from being able to work, attend school, or even properly care for their personal hygiene.
Even though HUD found that 76% of homeless women were staying in temporary shelters or half-way houses, these places are often unable to provide anything but the basics for the women, and for many sanitary products are considered a “luxury”. This is not surprising since the majority of U.S. state governments classify feminine hygiene products the same way. In 36 states these products are taxed as “luxury items”, often referred to as the “pink tax”.
This tax is on top of the already rising sticker price for these items that must be purchased monthly (a box of 50 tampons costs anywhere between $8-12 dollars and just 30 pads will run you $6-10 depending on the brand and style). As TV-show host Mike Rowe said, “A luxury?! Who’s going to treat themselves to a tampon?”
I Support the Girls is an organization that started in 2015 by a local DC-area woman named Dana Marlowe, with the core belief that “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health.” To-date, I Support the Girls has helped more than 320,000 girls and women retain their dignity by collecting over 1 million bras and 2,500,000 menstrual hygiene products and distributing them worldwide to 500 vetted shelters and organizations.
I first learned about I Support Girls in the fall of 2017 when I found out they were collecting bras and hygiene products for women living in communities devastated by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. I hosted a collection at the Renew & Restore Women’s Retreat that year to help provide these essentials to displaced women and girls who either lost their homes or were unable to return for many weeks due to the damage.
Yet I’m struck with the levity of the situation that 220,000 homeless women face every day. Every time I run into CVS or Walgreens to grab a box, I am reminded of how lucky I am that I don’t have to choose between feeding myself and my family or caring for the most basic of feminine hygiene needs.
I Support the Girls has approximately 50 local affiliates in 27 states, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, and the Philippines, and while that may make it sound like they are big international non-profit, the truth is they are very operationally lean and incredibly dependent on volunteers and donations. Director of Operations, Erin Persaud told me, “although we are able to attract and manage partnerships with major organizations, we do so with minimal staff and funding.” She went on to say that they “love product donations, of course, but truly being able to grow our impact in a meaningful way requires funding.”
Persaud also said that all of their local affiliates are low on hygiene products at the moment. I reached out to the contact for the local Northern Virginia Affiliate, Mia Jimenez and she shared with me that “The NoVA area is in need of more volunteers that would be willing to start local, ongoing drives. We’re also always looking for individuals to collect and sort donations and find shelters that are willing to accept these donations.”
If you live in the Northern VA area and would like to help, please message Mia via their Facebook page. If you are located elsewhere, here are four ways you can help:
- Contact your local affiliate and ask what they need
- Host a local collection or drive
- Order products off of the I Support the Girls Amazon wishlist.
- Donate financially
In the words of I Support the Girls founder, Dana Marlowe, “Sometimes when you learn something new, you get a nugget of information that you didn’t know before but it changes your mindset, your worldview…your perspective shifts.”
Now that I know about the real need to provide teens and women with their dignity, I will never look at a box of tampons or old bra the same. How about you?
This blog post was written in partnership with the Blogging for Better Supporters, a collective platform to raise awareness and money for a different charity each month. #bloggingforbetter