Lysne Tait and Amy Stephenson are making menstrual products more accessible to those struggling in the United States.
“Every one of us who has had a period has had that time. That fear. That feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re in a public place and you get your period,” Lysne Tait, co-founder of Helping Women Period said. “You don’t know if you have anything in your pocket, is there anything in the restroom? If there are machines, do they work? Do I have coins on me to even use the machine if there is one?”
Lysne Tait and Amy Stephenson started Helping Women Period, an organization which hopes to alleviate the lack of access to menstrual health products for people who are homeless or low-income in the United States. Their goal is to eliminate that “pit in your stomach” experience. It all started in January of 2015 when Tait found an article exposing this issue and reposted it to her social media. She quickly noticed that her friend (Stephenson) had posted the same article. The two started messaging about it.
“We had both read this article and it was very moving,” Tait said. “We never even contemplated that homeless people would have to do without these products. We always just assumed that in the U.S. there was some kind of government program that would cover this.”
When they found out there was, in fact, no government funding for this problem, the need to help was amplified. The two women decided they would gather about 30 of their closest friends for breakfast and make it into a charity event. They invited a few people and posted it to social media.
“It was going to be one event. One and done. We posted about it on a Sunday and by Tuesday we had to change the venue because we had 100 people who wanted to come, not just the 30 that we had originally intended,” Tait said.
That same week, Tait and Stephenson filed nonprofit paperwork. There were people from all over the world who wanted to make donations. After raising $4,000 from merely their first event, the women wanted to find a way to keep that money in their community, rather than purchasing period products from big name corporations like Amazon.
“We found a local company who sold us 100 cases of products for wholesale rates, as long as we purchased 100 cases. That was about $4,000 at the time,” Tait said.
Tait also wanted to ensure that Helping Women Period could partner with other organizations who already established relationships with the people they wanted to help. So instead of taking on this mission alone, Tait and Stephenson have partnered with over 150 organizations to distribute period products.
“We started working with domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters and schools to get the product where it needs to be. It just keeps getting bigger,” Tait said.
In their first year, Helping Women Period distributed about 11,000 products. In 2021, even with the rise of COVID-19, they distributed over 700,000 products. In 2022, they were able to provide 1.14 million products. These numbers are not even for the entire United States, just the state of Michigan. Through this recession, Tait has noticed that even people with jobs, such as teachers, will come to retrieve period products as well, as nowadays it is difficult to afford food, rent and menstrual products all at once. Before starting this process, Tait had given little thought to supply chains, distribution methods and loading/unloading products. Now, she has it totally covered.
“What we do, is we get cases of product. About 500 pads or tampons per box. Then we discuss with these other nonprofits and ask them ‘what do you need?’ They fill out our order form and then either myself or my volunteers will distribute those orders. That’s mostly how we do what we do,” Tait said.
Although there is an alternative method. Sometimes, members of Helping Women Period will go to local food banks and stand toward the end of the line of groceries. After people get the food they need, they’ll see someone standing there with menstrual products as well.
“The reactions are sometimes funny,” Tait said. “People aren’t always expecting to see pads and tampons at a food bank.”
While their reactions might be comical, the need is really there. Lots of people will take up the offer for free pads or tampons. Especially with the rise of inflation, even wholesale prices of these products have doubled in the past 2 years.
“It costs me $8,000 what I used to get for $4,000,” Tait said. “If it’s costing me twice as much, what is it costing people who are buying retail?”
This is why Helping Women Period also strives to educate people about alternative period products that aren’t disposable. They may be a bit more costly initially but will last about 7 years, whereas a pads or tampons will last 4-8 hours. These products include menstrual cups, period underwear and more. In order to keep with the times, Tait hopes the United States will adopt the practices of places like Scotland and New Zealand, where it is required to supply period products in public buildings. As of now, there are only a few cities in the United States who abide by this.
“I think employers and business owners are a little concerned because they think it’s going to cost them so much to supply these products,” Tait said. “But if you’re a business and you can buy in bulk and you’re not supplying somebody’s entire period, it’s not going to be that much. You supply toilet paper and soap, you supply paper towels in the bathroom, so why not?”
It truly is a matter of public health. If someone were to sit in a public area without the proper period products they need, it could cause issues with blood borne pathogens and overall sanitary problems. This is why Helping Women Period is doing everything they can to avoid situations like this.
“I think the more we can educate people about this, this more we can get rid of the stigma and make it not embarrassing to talk about, the more we can help,” Tait said.
As much as she wants her organization to flourish, the true goal is to make it so they don’t have to exist anymore. That all starts elsewhere.
“The ultimate solution is either providing a living wage or having these products available in all public buildings,” Tait said. “Schools, universities, libraries, I think that’s the key.”
A package of pads or tampons costs about $10. If you think about the cost of those products, plus pain remedies like a heating pad or medication and washing clothes more often there is so much that goes into having a period. It’s not cheap. Unfortunately, there is still an overwhelming need for help. People need period products and are not being provided with them adequately. Helping Women Period is a trailblazer for those who are concerned in aiding those who do not have the privilege of supplying themselves with menstrual products. There are, however, many ways to help, so that this problem can eventually disappear.
“We encourage people to donate,” Tait said. “For $40 we can supply one person’s need for an entire year because we buy in bulk.”
Helping Women Period has a monthly donation subscription on their website. People can donate products as well. Tait gets products mailed to her all the time because Helping Women Period will likely accept it, even if the box is open. If you didn’t like the product, somebody else will. They will repackage your individually wrapped unopened products to further help others. Most importantly, aside from money and product donations, is destigmatizing periods as a whole.
“The biggest thing is to talk about periods,” Tait said. “And to follow us on social media and repost what we say. The more we talk about it, the less it’s going to be a problem.”
Tait encourages everyone to do their own research and find more ways to help. To contribute to Helping Women Period, visit their website at helpingwomenperiod.org, or any of their social media accounts @helpingwomenperiod.