Nonprofit Tackles ‘Period Poverty’ For Low-Income Women And Girls

By Beth Reese Cravey The Florida Times-Union

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jan Healy is the founder of "Renewing Dignity" a non-profit established to "eliminate period poverty and period stigma." 

The Florida Times-Union

A new nonprofit's rallying cry addresses a problem that faces an estimated 100,000 women and girls in Northeast Florida and millions more across the country.

"Let's end period poverty!"

One in four women in the United States lack access to period products -- tampons and pads -- because of poor income. One in five low-income women reported missing work, school or other activities as a result, according to a 2018 U by Kotex survey conducted by YouGov.

Menstrual products also are not eligible for purchase with food stamps and other federal assistance programs, which leads some women to use unsanitary substitute products.

Jacksonville community volunteer Jan Healy learned those statistics at an August 2018 meeting of the Women's Giving Alliance and vowed to take action. This year she founded a nonprofit called Renewing Dignity to "eliminate period poverty and period stigma through direct service, education and advocacy," she said.

"This issue grabbed my soul, not only because I firmly believe that all women and girls deserve the dignity of having these basic essential supplies -- menstruation is a biological function, not a choice -- but because I believe in my heart this is a problem we can solve," she said.

OVERLOOKED PROBLEM Healy is president-elect and a founding member of the Jacksonville-based Alliance, a research-based volunteer group whose members pool their philanthropic giving to improve the lives of women and girls.

At the August meeting, leaders of the agencies that receive grants from the group "collectively noted" that many of their clients missed work and school because they could not afford feminine hygiene products. They said such products were "too expensive" for the agencies to provide and not typically among the items given to them by donors.

"Like most ... members present, I was stunned," Healy said.

The alliance responded by hosting a "Dignity Drive" at a subsequent meeting. "The response was overwhelming -- thousands of boxes of tampons and pads were donated," she said. "This inspired me, personally, to consider ways to make this work sustainable."

Healy researched what other communities were doing -- "Their efforts were new and mostly very grassroots and organic," she said -- and consulted with Joanne Cohen, vice president of The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, the alliance's parent.

Cohen suggested talking with Feeding Northeast Florida, a Jacksonville-based food bank that serves eight counties.

"This was genius and transformative," Healy said, because food bank staff "had witnessed the same problem in their work and wanted to begin providing these supplies to their food-insecure customers. Incorporating feminine hygiene products in their offerings had recently become part of Feeding America's mission, too. Our timing was perfect."

Renewing Dignity uses the food bank's "purchasing power to buy tampons and pads at bulk rates" and distribute them to low-income women and girls through its network of food pantries and other social-service agencies, she said.

"We are operating in a most efficient and effective manner. This is a true community partnership for good," Healy said.

In addition to working with the food bank, the nonprofit provides period products to agencies that have received grants from the alliance. Tampon and pad samples have been distributed in "dignity bags" donated by Natural Life, a Ponte Vedra Beach-based lifestyle brand company.

Future plans include developing educational materials and outreach, and legislative advocacy, she said.

Renewing Dignity received federal nonprofit status in February, allowing it to receive tax-deductible donations, and has already received grants from the The Community Foundation, the Ponte Vedra Women's Civic Alliance and the Delores Barr Weaver Fund.

"It has been a rewarding experience for me and for our volunteers to meet with product recipients as many say they appreciate someone caring about this overlooked and critical problem," Healy said.

MAKING IT HAPPEN Susan King, president and CEO of Feeding Northeast Florida, said she was thrilled to build a partnership with Renewing Dignity. Period poverty, she said, is a "very real issue."

"The people we serve ... are making decisions everyday between food and light bills, rent or medicine," King said. "Period products, which are not covered under SNAP [food stamp] benefits, are a necessity that far too many women and girls cannot afford. We are grateful that Renewing Dignity has taken on this once-taboo subject and is shining a light on what is really a basic human right."

Former alliance president Ellen Wiss said period poverty "horrified us all." But Healy "took the initiative to start Renewing Dignity in answer to this dire community need," she said.

"That's how social change happens. When you ask, listen and respond with a solution. Jan did just that," Wiss said. "I am so proud of her and so grateful for her. And, I hope everyone ... supports this important cause to level the playing field for women and girls and restore dignity." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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