Having to buy menstrual products is annoying at the best of times; but when you’re struggling to make ends meet, it can be nearly impossible.
Many shelters struggle to fund menstrual products for their clients, and those who find themselves homeless often have to resort to homemade alternatives. Period Purse is aimed at providing people in need with access to free menstrual products, and reducing the stigma surrounding periods through public education and advocacy work.
In 2017, Jana Girdauskas started Period Purse by giving away one purse filled with menstrual products; since then, the charity has given away more than 20,000. Although the federal tax on menstrual products was lifted in 2015, the cost remains prohibitively high for many on the margins; Period Purse is helping to bridge that gap.
After witnessing her sister-in-law’s involvement with the Toronto chapter of Period Purse, Megan Scott was intrigued.
“She had just come back from a packing party [where care packages are assembled] and she was telling me all about it,” she says. “It was one of those things where I couldn't even sleep that night, because all I could think about was how I could do it here (in Sault Ste. Marie).”
“I've been lucky enough and fortunate enough that I've never had to go without (menstrual products), but I still know that it's costly every month,” says Scott. “I can't even imagine -- if you're having trouble providing food for your family -- the idea of even going out and having to purchase menstrual products -- it must be very difficult.”
Scott decided to put in her own application to open a Period Purse chapter here. Since spring of last year, she has organized three blitzes -- with plans for more in the future.
At a typical blitz, Scott will outline what products they’re looking for, and lines up drop-off points where people can donate menstrual products (plus other needed personal care items). Then, she and her team of volunteers throw a packing party, assembling the donations into bags that contain a two-month supply (valued at $25-30). Then, the packages are dropped off at different community organizations (like Pauline’s Place & Hope Alliance) to be distributed to community members in need.
Considering more than half of the population will have their period at some point, Scott would love to see menstrual products available for free in public places -- an idea that is gaining steam in other municipalities, including the City of Toronto.
“Hopefully one day, it will be like toilet paper,” she says. “You won't ever have to bring your own -- you know that if you go to the washroom it’s going to be there, for free.”
Scott believes the very existence of organizations like Period Purse help to stamp out the taboo surrounding menstruation.
“It's a topic that I never even thought to talk about before. But since I’ve started with the organization and started to talk to others about it -- you just get more comfortable and the stigma gets taken away,” she says. “I think it is a topic that we should be able to be open about.”
Scott has been happily surprised by the increasing number of volunteers who come out to lend a hand at packing parties, and she scoffs at the notion that young people aren’t giving back. While typical service organizations tend to attract an older crowd, Scott has noticed that more youth are looking for meaningful ways -- like Period Purse -- to make a difference.
“We got over 20 volunteers at our last packing party, of all ages. We had two high school students come out--they were genuinely excited to be helping; they genuinely cared. They wanted to be there and help out.”
Scott attributes her own volunteer inclinations to the women in her life.
“I think back to my mom and my grandma; they didn't necessarily have a lot of money to give, but they were always giving their time,” she remembers. “I feel like that was instilled in me and my sisters. I remember volunteering when I was little and I didn't really think anything of it. It just seemed like something that you should do. It fulfills me and makes me happy to help others -- I definitely got that from them.”