KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The lack of access to feminine products is keeping some kids out of school. A recent study by the Jackson County Health Department shows how great the need is for young women in the Kansas City area.
Local groups and legislators are also taking a stand to help.
Last August, the Jackson County Health Department sent out a survey to schools. Of the mostly school nurses who responded, 11% said they knew of female students missing class because they could not afford feminine hygiene products.
For women, discussing their period can be taboo, frowned upon or looked over. For younger women it may be too embarrassing to even ask questions. However, it’s something most all of them deal with each month through a good part of their lives.
Teresa Hamilton founded the Kansas City, Kansas based organization Giving the Basics after a friend of hers couldn’t afford toilet paper. That act of kindness turned into many and ultimately fueled a passion to help people in the metro have access to toiletries.
“It’s an emergent need and it’s stressful and embarrassing to a girl that’s in that predicament,” Hamilton said.
Giving the Basics serves schools, shelters and the police department with basic hygiene products for those with a need.
“Imagine feeling this crushing feeling of ‘oh no’ but not once but for months for days on end,” Hamilton said.
Her organization serves 29 school districts in the metro and all request feminine products as part of their monthly orders.
The health department found students are missing school because of lack of access to pads and tampons. Mary Henggeler, a program and policy specialist with the department helped on the survey given to schools last August. She said they found many young women miss school because of their period and the symptoms that come along with it. However, some are unable to come to school because their household can’t afford feminine hygiene products.
“About 65%, we’re aware that for some reason, those students miss school because of their period. And then of those 11%, were aware of students that said they missed it because they didn’t have access,” Henggeler said.
Their recent survey uncovered a great need for young women in middle and high school. She says organizations like Giving the Basics are wonderful, but wants to see the state take steps to make feminine products available to all young women in their school’s bathroom.
Hamilton said their organization has great buying power when it comes to purchasing products in bulk. A dollar can go a long way and are always open to expanding help to more districts.
“There’s a lot of different ways that schools are getting those products into their buildings and into the student’s hands. But unfortunately, what happens there is that you don’t have something consistent,” Henggler said.
Another organization with a focus on access to feminine wellbeing in the metro is Giving Hope & Help founded by Jessica McClellan. She started her organization after experiencing instances of difficulty in her own life. She started helping domestic violence shelters with access to product and has expanded to help young women as well.
“Just because you have access as an every day pick up at the counter kind of thing – not everyone has access. Food stamps doesn’t cover this item of dignity,” McClellan said.
Feminine products are not cheap in general. A package of pads or tampons could cost around $10 off the store shelf not including tax. McClellan says some families have to make a difficult decision between menstrual health and food. She holds product drives and on the first Saturday of each month has a free period pantry at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church in KCK.
“I believe they should be free and I’m fighting and advocating for that,” McClellan said.
Some Missouri legislators feel the same way. Currently there are nine proposed bills in the state between the topic of removing taxation on products or giving students access to free product.
State Senator Ingrid Burnett is trying to do just that. She’s been working with other senators on pushing the bills forward along with serving on the budget committee. She wants to not only ensure these products are available to young women who need them but also make sure there is funding for it. She says for the entire state they believe it would cost about $4 million a year and is looking to find a way to make it happen in the state budget.
“It would be a sense of relief. Realizing that I had a case and helping girls not have to face that struggle not have to face that barrier,” Burnett said. “How are you going to implement this legislation if the if the funding isn’t available, so if all we do is get the funding passed in the budget, then those funds would be dedicated for that purpose.”
Burnett spent 30 years in elementary level education and says she understands school’s have to be creative to help kids and teens with this need.
“They’re really hit pretty hard as it is. But, you know, we don’t ask students to bring their own paper towels to dry their hands with or their own toilet paper. When they’re when they go to the bathroom,” Burnett said.
“This isn’t a woman problem or a girl problem or a menstruator problem. This is a world problem, and we can change it,” McClellan said.
Giving Hope and Help is always looking for volunteers and donors for their organization. If you are interested in signing up with them or hosting your own feminine product drive visit their website for more information.
Giving the Basics also welcomes donations and volunteers. They also offer opportunities for groups to come and donate their time to organize and package pallets of donations getting ready to go out to districts, shelters, and other organizations.