While women across the world face a number of symptoms that make menstruating difficult throughout the year, others face additional issues such as living in poverty that make dealing with menstruating even harder. Despite misconceptions that access to female hygiene products is an issue in developing countries and not the U.S., the truth is American women are 38% more likely to live in poverty than men, making them vulnerable to period poverty. Period poverty is a lack of access to menstrual products and resources. Women living in poverty often must choose between buying products like pads and tampons and feeding themselves or even feeding their children, making access to hygiene products an obstacle. In addition to lack of hygiene products, period poverty could include lack of access to clean water and even waste management services like toilets.
In efforts to end period poverty, two women, a mother and daughter duo, have been delivering free menstrual products door-to-door in Philadelphia for at least three years. The women, Lynette Medley and her daughter Nya McGlone, have often delivered these items at night to respect the privacy of those they serve, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Now as word of their kind-hearted work has spread, community members have come together to crowdfund a menstrual hub. Opening Saturday, The SPOT Period menstrual hub will be the first hub of its kind in the nation.
The hub follows years of the duo running their nonprofit, No More Secrets: Mind Body Spirit, Inc., out of Medley’s therapy office and the trunk of her car. The SPOT hub is completely funded through community donations and stands for Safety Programming for Optimal Transformation. According to the Inquirer, it offers multiple services including free menstrual and hygiene products, educational resources and seminars, access to clean water and toilets, a computer room, first period kits, and a safe room dedicated to Breonna Taylor for “marginalized women to escape the dangers of the world.”
“You usually hear about it internationally because of lack of access to clean water, but we pay for water here and many people’s toilets don’t work,” Medley said. “It’s a conversation about privileges and the realities of the situations.”
By respecting the needs of their community and those who need support, Medley and McGlone have created a space for genuine conversations on menstrual hygiene and reproductive health. Prior to their delivery services, community members had noted that the initiative was great, but those in poverty lacked the resources to come to the spaces they were provided in. Medley and McGlone thus innovated on their program to adapt to the specific needs of the community.
“I think the difference in our approach is that we provide dignity to our communities. We do not give them pity because in my mind we should not have to do this work,” Medley told the Inquirer. “I cry because I can’t believe this is something they have to ask for, to beg for — a pad or a tampon.”
The issue is close to the duo’s heart because they both grew up in West Philadelphia and faced period poverty themselves at one point in their lives.
“We went from a middle-class family to having insecurities with finances and emotional insecurity with the incarceration of my ex-husband,” Medley said. “When people want to help, you don’t mind when they say ‘Let me help you with food,’ but nobody wants to articulate that conversation about not having access to menstrual products.”
In addition to facing period poverty herself, Medley’s work as a sexuality awareness educator and counselor encouraged her to start the initiative. At work, clients told her stories of what they used instead of menstrual products because of lack of access and resources not being covered under government assistance programs. She shared a shocking incident with the Inquirer during which one client told her she was using stuffed animals and socks during her cycle. “What bothered me was that this was OK in her mind, this is what we do,” she said. “I started asking others and realized this was going on in our community with other people and nobody is talking about it.”
Amid the pandemic, the need for feminine hygiene products has increased. While before the two were making about 80 deliveries a week, during the pandemic this increased to about 285 weekly deliveries, according to the Inquirer. As a result, Medley and McGlone began crowdfunding their initiative in the hope that enough funds could create a hub. By January, not only were they able to garner enough funds for their hub, but the SPOT Period initiative received a $4,500 grant from The Pad Project and L., and a $5,000 grant for the Breonna Taylor room from DivaCares, the social-impact program of Diva, makers of the DivaCup. In addition to the grant, DivaCares also pledged to donate 200 reusable DivaCups every month to the hub.
Medley and McGlone plan to continue their deliveries despite the new hub. “When we started, we had no idea where we were going to go and how it would manifest into being,” Medley said. “Everything happened because of our community.” The hub will be open from 10 AM to 6 PM Monday, noon to 8 PM Wednesday, 10 AM to 6 PM Friday, and Saturday by appointment. Clients are requested to fill out a form online at nomoresecretsmbs.org to schedule an appointment.
Local and state officials have applauded their work and emphasized the importance of nonprofit organizations and community support. “I am so excited that this hub will bring hope,” Rep. Joanna McClinton said. “I think knowing someone cares enough to make this the focal point of this type of hub will remove the stigma and the shame.”
The stigma of periods, while decreasing, still exists worldwide, even in the U.S. Access to menstrual hygiene products is an essential but often overlooked component of women’s rights. Instead of guessing the needs of the community, officials should follow the steps of Medley and McGlone in speaking with and adapting to what the community wants and needs. In order to end period poverty and other inequalities, we can’t create solutions that are inaccessible—we must work to address all needs by not only providing resources, but providing adequate access to get to them.
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