Lindsay Shaw, 24, was walking downtown with a friend complaining about the price of tampons when she saw a young homeless person asking for money.
“And it popped into my mind how hard it might be for someone struggling already to pay for these products,” said Shaw, a graduate student at the University of Victoria and researcher at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.
“I wrote a paper two years ago on menstrual product equity. So I’m aware of the issue. But I started Googling and emailing around to find out about the [local] need,” she said.
She contacted the Cool Aid Society and found that menstrual products are a constant need for both the Rock Bay homeless shelter and Sandy Merriman House shelter for women.
“I asked if I could do a drive and they said yes,” Shaw said. So she started the Period Posse, a campaign to collect menstrual products and funds for homeless women.
Shaw said that menstrual products are likely more of a challenge for homeless women because they are more expensive downtown “rather than the big box stores where you can buy in bulk,” and it’s difficult to carry large quantities.
A box of tampons or pads costs from $7 to $10. If a period costs a woman $20 a month, that adds up to $240 a year — not including new underwear or pain medication for cramps.
“We already have 15 businesses signed on,” said Shaw, who has given each a collection box. She’s had to empty a few already, receiving $900 in products and cash in a few days.
She said she’s heartened by the response to the campaign and how people are moving beyond any stigma talking about menstruation to tackle this important issue.
“There was some discomfort, but I found the best way was to be really comfortable talking about my own menstruation,” she said.
Christine O’Brien, the manager of Sandy Merriman House, said Shaw’s campaign has opened up an important conversation among the women and staff.
“Women are sharing stories with us about how they’ve coped with their periods,” she said. “They made homemade tampons or pads out of newspapers. Some were risky things that could cause severe health issues.”
O’Brien said menstruation is something not often talked about in relation to homelessness “and it’s sometimes taken for granted women don’t have access to these products,” she said, adding women have come to the shelter with bloody clothes and in need of products, laundry and showers.
“We do get women who come here for that.”
She said she budgets about $1,000 a month for menstrual products and they are on the wish list of most-needed items year-round.
How to donate
The Period Posse campaign will collect pads, tampons, panty liners and other menstrual products (opened packages are OK) and cash donations until Dec. 20. For more information and drop-off locations, visit: facebook.com/theperiodposse.