Period poverty—meaning the lack of regular, reliable access to menstrual products and care—is a long-standing issue in the U.S. In a 2019 survey published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found that nearly two-thirds of low-income women say they can’t afford menstrual hygiene products. Instead, they use rags, toilet paper, paper towels, and other free supplies in order to manage their periods.
Schools (both K-12 and universities) have long been places where people could access period products for free. However, with COVID-19 demanding campus closures, remote learning, and budget cuts, there’s a risk that America’s existing period poverty issue could worsen. Additionally, the U.S. unemployment rate is currently 10.2 percent, putting a huge financial strain on many people. When choosing to put food on the table, pay bills, or buy pads and tampons, the latter likely falls to the bottom of the priorities list for many families.
People with uteruses shouldn’t have to be in the position in the first place, advocates argue. “[Period products are] not a luxury,” said associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University Anne Sebert Kuhlmann (who conducted the above-mentioned survey) in an interview with Reuters. “It’s a need. It affects a woman’s sense of self, her sense of dignity, and her ability to participate in life.” (Many other people with uteruses who are not women also require these products to manage their periods.) Yet these products are often taxed highly, and aren’t covered by government-assistance programs like SNAP, she said.
Fortunately, there are some organizations that are making period products available to those who would normally get them in schools, as well as anyone else who needs them. Below is a list of resources that are helping provide better access to menstrual products for those in need. Keep reading to see how to get free tampons and pads for yourself or for your community, depending on the organization.
This organization (sponsored by U by Kotex), helps collect and distribute period supplies to those in need by partnering with over 75 programs nationwide. Anyone who needs period products can text 211 or visit 211.org to find a location giving out free tampons and pads.
Normally Free The Period is dedicated full-time to ending the tampon tax, but has pivoted its efforts to providing period products to those who need them—particularly to those who would normally get them in schools. Head to its site to find out how you can be sent free tampons, pads, or menstrual cups to distribute to your community. (FYI: As of press time, the organization is currently paused on orders and waiting for new donations.)
This non-profit provides menstrual hygiene kits to people all over the country. Its initiative supports anyone that is homeless, low-income, and/or living in poverty—including LGBTQ and non-binary folx, teens, veterans, and people with disabilities. Head to the site to learn more about how you can get sent kits to hand out in your neighborhood or to find out where you can get access to free menstrual products.
Created by two 12-year-old twins, Women In Training advocates for menstrual equity, menstrual education, and engages girls and non-binary youth, ages 10 to 18, in community service and social justice. Currently, the organization is supplying kits to youth in this age demo that include sanitary pads, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner. The non-profit is gearing up for its first virtual race in October to help raise money for more supplies. If you’re interested in signing up, you can do so here.
5. She Supply
Based in Texas, She Supplies helps volunteers throw Porch Parties, allowing them to collect donations for period products at home. Contact the organization to get more info on how you can throw your own for your community.
This piece was originally posted on January 11, 2019. It was updated on September 2, 2020.
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