Period Poverty 

Group works to supply women in need with sanitary products

One Memphis grassroots organization wants to help eliminate period poverty here by improving women's access to sanitary products for menstruation.

Sister Supply, formed in 2015, provides pads, tampons, and underwear to women and girls who are homeless or living in poverty. It also works to de-stigmatize the discussion of periods and provide education about and access to sustainable menstrual products, such as washable pads.

Eli Cloud, co-founder of Sister Supply, said that period poverty isn't a new concept here, but it's only recently began to be addressed. Cloud said many women and girls go without the proper menstrual supplies because they can't afford them.

click to enlarge Sister Supply founders Eli Cloud and Nikii Richey. - SISTER SUPPLY
  • Sister Supply
  • Sister Supply founders Eli Cloud and Nikii Richey.

"Menstruators have been going without and improvising because they lack financial access to pads and tampons — essential items that are taxed as luxury items," Cloud said. "Period poverty remained hidden until recently because of the stigmatization of discussion of menstruation. This lack of access to menstrual products required to meet a basic need of all females creates a ripple effect that has a negative impact on achievement."

Cloud said the organization initially focused on providing menstrual supplies to homeless women here, but learned that the "problem extends well beyond the homeless population."

Cloud said most of the donations go toward middle and high schools.

"In school, going back and forth to the school office to get a pad during your period means that you miss out on valuable instruction time — time that male students do not miss," Cloud said. "This creates unequal access to education."

The cost of providing supplies for one student from the time she begins menstruating through high school graduation is about $100, Cloud said.

"It's a small front-end investment compared to the cost associated with high-school dropouts, education, and workforce development problems."

Cloud said the ultimate goal is to push for policy changes that would eliminate period poverty completely.

Between May 28th and June 2nd the group will be collecting menstrual products and money for women in need at various locations around the city, including Crosstown Concourse, the Mid-South Food Bank, and the Memphis Child Advocacy Center.

On Saturday June 1st, Sister Supply will hold a volunteer event at Shady Grove Presbyterian Church where participants will prepare one- and three-month menstrual supply kits.

The Urban Child Institute of the Mid-South, which focuses on improving the health and well-being of young children in Shelby County, is partnering with Sister Supply on next week's fund raiser.

Dominique DeFreece, special projects coordinator for the Institute, said though the organization's main focus is children under eight years old, the institute saw a need for providing menstrual supplies to older girls and women as well.

"We see that children aren't individuals," DeFreece. "They're part of families. To really be able to care for a child, we need to look at family and who's caring for them. If these people aren't being provided for, then the child's needs aren't being met either."

Now, the institute, is working to create a large-scale product bank that provides mentsrual supplies, diapers, and adult incontinence products.

DeFreece said the plan is to begin distributing the products in mass from the Mid-South Food Bank beginning in mid-June.

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