Period poverty. A phrase not many have heard or experienced throughout their lifetimes, and luckily so. Someone experiencing period poverty can be described as a person who either can’t afford to purchase period products or can’t afford to purchase period products without sacrificing something else in their life, according to Morgan Gaynor, the community director of The Junior League of Monmouth County.
“Period poverty is often thought of as something that occurs in third world or developing countries, but it’s in our backyard,” Gaynor said. “In New Jersey, one in four girls reports having missed school because they did not have access to products. One in five women report missing work or other obligations because they don’t have products. And, nationally, one in 10 college students do not have the money to afford period products.”
Gaynor said she came across these statistics when organizing a food drive hosted by The Junior League of Monmouth County for families in the Red Bank area during the spring and summer of 2020. As she and her team tried to make sure each grocery bag contained balanced, complete meal options, she began to wonder what non-food items were in high demand.
“I spoke to local food banks, food pantries and several diaper banks in the area, and one thing that kept coming up was that women ask for period products,” she said. “[These locations] don’t have a steady stream of products coming in, and when they get them, they give them out right away, but it’s not a reliable source for people who need these products.”
Gaynor and her team from The Junior League of Monmouth County decided to speak with the Flow Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Jersey City that is dedicated to educating girls, women and menstruators about period poverty while trying to lessen the shame and embarrassment often associated with it. They also joined the Alliance for Period Supplies, a national organization working to break the cycle of period poverty.
To put their own dent in ending period poverty while continuing to empower women through service opportunities, The Junior League of Monmouth County decided to launch a Period Product Pantry at their headquarters building in Rumson. The pantry serves as a 24-hour access point for people menstruating who need products.
“Our goal is to keep the pantry stocked with free period products 24/7,” said Alexandra McMenamy, president of The Junior League of Monmouth County. “If someone is in need of products, they can drive over, grab what they need and go on with their day or night and not have to talk to anyone, answer any questions or have any kind of embarrassment.”
Stocked with products from The Junior League of Monmouth County’s period product drive, the pantry aims to advocate for period poverty, period equity, period safety and period access.
“Initially, we saw there was a need, and we partially wanted to raise awareness about this because it’s just not something that’s always talked about,” McMenamy said. “It can be embarrassing for some, but it’s an important women’s issue, and we are a group of women raising awareness.”
Gaynor, McMenamy and the rest of The Junior League of Monmouth County hope to open a second pantry in spring 2022 with the goal of eventually expanding the pantries throughout Monmouth and Ocean Counties.
“We’re hoping that we can find partners in the area that would like to host this on their properties,” Gaynor said. “Ideally, they would be located in a location that would be serving populations where these products will be needed. We have an interest form on our website for these organizations to complete, and then we’re going to come up with a formal application process in the next couple of weeks.”
Overall, Gaynor wants women experiencing period poverty to know they’re not alone.
“We hear you,” she said. “We know this is a problem, and we’re fighting for it. Don’t be ashamed to speak up and speak to whoever is helping you in your life because they might not know that this is an issue, and the more we get comfortable talking about our menstruation, the better it’ll be for the women that follow us.”
For more information about the Period Product Pantry and to learn how to host a pantry on your property, visit jlmc.org.