By Kara Witherow, Editor
When was the last time you had to choose between paying for a meal or a menstrual pad?
For many women, the choice is all too real. Called “period poverty,” it’s the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints, and it affects women and girls around the world.
It’s a problem that affects more than those who are financially strapped or experiencing homelessness, though. According to a recent survey, nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they didn’t have access to menstrual products.
Since February, Macon’s Centenary United Methodist Church has worked to address this issue through its partnership and support of Macon Periods Easier.
An offshoot of non-partisan organization Georgia Women, Macon Periods Easier works to address period poverty in Macon and Bibb County and normalize the conversation about menstruation through educational presentations and events.
The group collects menstrual supplies such as pads, tampons, liners, and wipes and packs a few of each in donated cosmetic bags or zippered storage bags. They give them to local elementary, middle, and high schools and Daybreak, the local homeless center. Since its inception in February, Macon Periods Easier has distributed more than 23,000 products.
In September, Centenary UMC’s School of Creative Education hosted a Ladies Night Out “Period Party.” The event’s purpose was to have fun, raise awareness, and collect products. Event participants donated 2,312 pads, 1,120 liners, 978 tampons, and 34 packs of wipes. That evening, church members decided to keep collection bins out year-round and to also begin offering free feminine hygiene products in the church’s restrooms.
Centenary UMC’s involvement with Macon Periods Easier is just one more way the congregation is reaching out to those in need, says member Yvonne Stewart, who organized the church’s Period Party. The congregation hosts a Sunday morning breakfast, built two showers in its fellowship hall, and runs a bicycle ministry, among other outreach efforts.
“This just falls in with that mindset and in noticing what people need and finding ways to help provide it,” she said.
Public benefits like food stamps can’t be used to buy tampons or pads, Stewart said. The products aren’t included in flexible or health spending account allowances and they’re not covered by health insurance or Medicaid.
“If people are financially strapped and there are three or four women in the household, it can be difficult to go out and buy these products.”
More than 50 Bibb County schools receive the period packs, said Susan Long, a Macon Periods Easier board member who occasionally attends Centenary UMC.
Without a budget for such items, school nurses were often using their own money to purchase pads, tampons, and other products for girls who would request them, Long said.
“There’s no hard data available, but in talking with school social workers and school nurses we have found that girls are missing school because they lack products,” she said. “It feels like the work we’re doing is helping remove one more barrier to girls attending school.”
Macon Periods Easier is filling a big need in local schools and in the community, Long said, and the support they’re receiving from Centenary UMC and other congregations is vital.
“Some of us had not realized the extent of this need, that ‘period poverty’ even existed,” she said. “But once we became aware of the issue it is something our community has really gotten around and is supporting and helping provide for these girls and women.”
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