As I drove away from another successful packing party, my SUV was filled with tampons and pads; my heart was full. I was glowing from another night of kindness and giving by our volunteer community. Over 30 people came and packed an enormous mountain of donations. Tampons and pads in a ziplock bag, one month's supply, topped with our motivational note.
It was late on a Saturday night and my kids were sleeping. I had time to deliver to organizations and people in need.
I dropped into shelters and visited newly opened respite centres. I and several other volunteers would eventually distribute 1,500 period packs. Every location entered, though, was at capacity. Every location needed more.
"Do you have mitts and hats? Do you have underwear and socks? Can you bring more?"
I wish I could have given them everything they wanted.
Beds were all full in the respite centres. One location was a simple drop-in; it was standing room only. Many folks trying to keep warm didn't even have a chair to sit on for the night. This is a common occurrence in the colder months.
Unfortunately, this isn't shocking to me. I've seen this before with my volunteer work in the Ve'ahavta's outreach van. I have a grasp on the high need for a warm place and everyday products. No matter how many times I see this, though, I am concerned at how quickly Toronto can soak up 1,500 period packs.
Even with hundreds of donations, we are still only serving 23 percent of Toronto's demand. Only eight percent of the community partners we support have a budget to buy period products.
That Saturday night was filled with such a roller coaster of emotions. I'm overjoyed with the hope our community can give. Then, I am upset there are so many people experiencing homelessness without period supplies and a place to sleep. Next, I experience frustration, as the city doesn't currently provide shelters, respite centres and drop-ins with even $1 for marginalized menstruators.
The following Sunday morning, I cried into my coffee. To my husband, I recited my experiences of giving out so many period packs. Finally, I wiped up my tears and tried to focused on the good.
During our 2018 Toronto Fall Blitz, we packed 687 period purses and another 1,010 refill period packs. This experience is what keeps me, us, going. Through The Period Purse, we are doing great things, but we can do more - we have to.
You can be part of that "we" and make a difference this Giving Tuesday.
Sponsor a menstruator in our city for only $12 a month. That's foregoing a few lattes, one fast food lunch or a bottle of wine: Simple sacrifices to provide one person experiencing homelessness with the supplies they need to experience a healthy period, every month.
Do more than give today; commit to making change.
"Ok, now there is a day for everything."
"This can't be real"
"Is this a joke??"
"This is the most outrageous thing I have EVER heard of. How insulting and offensive to every single female. Who makes up this SH**???? There is no modesty left in this world. Honestly, this needs to be REMOVED."
"That's just gross, what were you thinking?"
"Wtf? What a waste of time and energy... when is toenail fungus day?"
These are just a few of the more than 350 responses to Toronto Mayor John Tory's tweet announcing that Toronto had proclaimed May 28, 2018, as the city's inaugural Menstrual Hygiene Day. While the remarks may be comical, these reactions to the Mayor's declaration are just further proof that such a day is badly needed to help shed the stigma of menstruation and improve menstrual equity.
Initiated by WASH United in 2014, Menstrual Hygiene Day raises worldwide awareness of the challenges people face due to their menstruation. The 2018 initiative marked the first time that Toronto officially recognized the important awareness day.
Around the world, a lack of access to menstrual products, sanitation and privacy inhibits women, girls, trans-men and non-binary folks from managing their menses safely and with dignity, as defined by them. Makeshift menstrual products made from rags, paper, and other found materials are a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to infection. Coupled with deep-rooted taboos surrounding menstruation, the fear of leaks, stains and odors often keep marginalized menstruators home from school or work during their periods, the repercussions of which are far-reaching.
While this may sound like the kind of issue that happens only in far-away places, menstrual inequity is an issue even here at home in Canada. Many women, girls, trans-men and non-binary menstruators miss school and work every day due to a lack of access to menstrual products.
I was proud to work with Jana Girdauskas, founder and chair of The Period Purse, to bring Menstrual Hygiene Day to Toronto in 2018, with thanks to our City Hall Champion, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who took up the period poverty cause swiftly. Jana and I had a meeting scheduled with Councillor Wong-Tam on the morning of Fri., May 24 just two days before the global Menstrual Hygiene Day. Our objectives for the meeting were simply to inform Councillor Wong-Tam about period poverty, but upon learning of the issue and its effects here at home, she immediately got to work on declaring Menstrual Hygiene Day. Just two days later, Toronto's declaration of the day became front-page news!
On the heels of Menstrual Hygiene Day, Toronto City Council also passed a motion to include funding in the 2019 city budget for menstrual products in shelters, drop-ins and health centres. But raising awareness of menstrual equity and making sure menstrual products are available to all who need them is only the beginning. In order to truly achieve menstrual equity, we also need to break the curse of centuries of period shame and stigma. We need all of our policies to reflect the reality that some of the population and by some, I mean roughly half of the entire world menstruates.
Listen to this nine-minute episode of the Heavy Flow Podcast to learn more about why simply handing out pads isn't enough when it comes to menstrual equity. Read the news release to learn more about Menstrual Hygiene Day and Toronto's declaration. Stay tuned for more on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019!
About the Author:
Amanda Laird is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and host of the Heavy Flow Podcast a weekly podcast dedicated to periods, reproductive health and other taboo health and wellness topics. Amanda is the author of the forthcoming book, Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation, published by Dundurn Press in February 2019. She lives in Toronto. Follow Amanda on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @AmandaLaird. Photo credit: Emily From
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.
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.
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!