It's a hot Saturday night in July. Friends hop in a van and head downtown. They are excited, energized and enthusiastic. What seems like girls' night out is actually a volunteer mission. This is no party vehicle - it's an outreach van run by an organization called Ve'ahavta. The group will not be dancing the night away, but will instead hand out food, hygiene items, clothing, water, and period purses to impoverished and marginalized communities in Toronto.
The van goes out six nights a week and Keren Troyna, one of the resident outreach workers with Ve'ahavta, rides in the van for half of those nights. She is bright, funny, empathetic, strong and friendly. She knows the clients and calls them to let them know she is on the way. Some of the clients are regulars, who are serviced by the van, and others find the vehicle as it drives by. These nights are always equal parts heartbreaking and rewarding, but this particular night would become magical.
Elisha Chesler, The Period Purse's Volunteer Coordinator, rides in the van almost every month. She too knows the clients and is a warm soul practiced at spotting those who might need the van's services. On this particular evening, Elisha sees a woman sitting outside The Toronto Reference Library. Her head is down and her face is hidden with her knees hugged into her chest. There is a small bag of possessions at her feet. Keren pulls up and initiates contact, offering her food, coffee, and water. The woman is alone, there is a cut on her cheek and her demeanor is one of exhaustion and utter sadness. Once the coffee, food, and water are handed out, the group gives her a purse. It's like someone had turned on a light in the absolute dark. The woman lights up, claps her hands and exclaims in glee, a megawatt smile breaking out.
At this moment, there is joy. It's a beautiful thing to witness. Magical, even. The group stays with the woman a little longer as she examines the purse and its contents, together experiencing gratitude.
Through the efforts of Jana Girdauskas, founder, and everyone involved in the organization, The Period Purse has given volunteers the opportunity to hand out happiness and relief to marginalized and impoverished menstruators. The purses provide a sliver of light in what is often a dark and lonely existence; for a time allowing those who receive them to feel hope.
After distribution, the group shuffles back in the van, each uniquely influenced. The woman who moments earlier had been curled up hiding from the world, shares a smile and waves as they drive away.
If you are interested in volunteering with Ve'ahavta, please email our Volunteer Coordinator.
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You're out and about when you experience that heart-stopping, panic-filled moment of knowing your period is coming and you're not prepared. It's uncomfortable, it's anxiety-inducing and luckily for most of us, the panic is temporary. You stop at a store, go home, grab a cover-up sweater or turn to a friend. But for some of us, a whopping 63,450 menstruators in Canada experiencing homelessness, there is no quick fix. There is no spare clothing nor is there money for supplies. That anxiety, that uncomfortableness, it doesn't go away. It turns into weeks, months and years. It turns into dangerous substitutions, a myriad of health issues and in desperation, theft.
The Period Purse spoke with Jacqueline, a resident of one of Toronto's shelters, and she shared her experience with us:"My worst memory [to] date is the day when I became homeless and realized that I have nowhere to go to seek help, even [when] I am on my period. I mean, I know that being homeless is a hard thing, but I didn't think that going through your period month after month as a homeless woman would be this nightmarish."
In a demographic that has trouble procuring their next meal, tampons usually a basic necessity, are a luxury. As Jacqueline explains it:"Sometimes, I'd go for days without a pad, but whenever I could afford, I would buy cheap quality tampons from the dollar store. They didn't always absorb as much as they should, but again, you only get so much for buying from dollar store brands."
There are too many stories like Jacqueline's; impoverished menstruators using socks, paper products or stealing. There too are stories of young Indigenous girls in remote communities missing school for days at a time due to lack of access to menstrual products.Mindful of these stories, Jana Girdauskas, founder of The Period Purse, decided to fill one purse, for one menstruator. She had all the products to fill the purse, but she was missing the purse itself and so she turned to Facebook. The rest, as they say, is history. Less than a month later, The Period Purse had 400 filled purses and chapters opening in various cities across Ontario. A year into the mission and the organization has handed out over 3,000 purses and over 5,000 refill period packs, as well as driven policy change in Ontario legislature.
The Period Purse is undoubtedly a vital need, but as Jacqueline tells us, the purses also mean so much more:"My first reaction when I received one of your purses from the shelter I was staying at was that I felt special. There are so many items inside the purse apart from the tampons and pads, like toothpaste, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, disposable wipes, etc. I don't have to worry about buying products like these on an ongoing basis. There is also a card with a message in each purse, which is very well-written. I felt like I was being addressed personally as opposed to a generic group of homeless women. I thought that was very nice as well."
The Period Purse would like to thank Jacqueline for sharing her story with us and reaffirming the importance of our mission.
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We received the following note from one of our shelter partners, Street Haven at the Crossroads.
"We'd like to give a super special thanks to The Period Purse for this generous donation of menstrual care kits to Street Haven! We received 60 (!) beautifully, thoughtfully and lovingly packaged kits to help our ladies survive that visit by Aunt Flo. And the chocolate was a real nice touch... c'mon ladies, you know what we're talking about! "
We didn't do this alone. Thank you to you and the community for giving so we can do this! And a big thanks to Maxine for being an amazing driver and helping us so much!
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