Angie Vargas, Arm in Arm Food Pantry case manager, Carolyn Biondi, Arm in Arm Executive Director, and Gil Gordon, Princeton Period Project coordinator, with delivery to the pantry at Nassau Presbyterian Church.

I’ve been up to my ears in tampons for the last six months. No, this isn’t some kind of fetish. It’s in connection with the Princeton Period Project, the newest community-support initiative of Princeton Cornerstone Community Kitchen.

We’re tackling what’s known as “period poverty,” a problem on virtually nobody’s radar.

The lack of a reliable supply of feminine hygiene products (FHPs) causes girls to miss school, women to miss work, and shows in a different way how the basics most of us take for granted aren’t readily available to everyone. Five key points:

  1. In low-income households where every penny counts, the purchase of FHPs can be seen as “discretionary spending,” which of course is not true.
  2. Everyone thinks the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) went away decades ago when super-absorbent tampons left the market. But the same health risk exists today when girls and women can’t afford to change tampons and pads as often as they should. This is unconscionable in 2018.
  3. Girls are starting puberty earlier than ever, including when they start menstruating. Neither they nor the schools are prepared for this; the schools have a meager budget for emergency supply of FHPs for nurses’ offices but that’s not enough. So what happens? These girls suffer embarrassment and may have to stay home from school (just as their mothers may have to stay home from work) because they don’t have a supply of FHPs. That’s why PPP is including all the schools — including elementary — in our distribution plans.
  4. With food insecurity and clothing insecurity, there is a community mindset about dealing with the problem: we routinely have canned-food drives, free dinners such as Cornerstone serves, and food pantries among other solutions. For clothing, we have winter coat-and-mitten drives, backpack drives, and the like. Fortunately, many in the community are conditioned to be aware of these issues and respond accordingly.
    Imagine this scenario: family members are shopping together in the grocery store, and one of the kids (mindful of a canned-food drive in his or her school or church) says, “Hey Dad, let’s get a few cans of soup for the food drive.” But NOBODY says, “Hey Dad, let’s get a couple of boxes of pads for those who need them.”
  5. Similarly, when it comes to food insecurity there is an awareness and urgency borne from the perishable nature of fresh foods or packaged/prepared foods donated by restaurants and supermarkets. This creates momentum to push the food out into the community. But tampons and pads have no sell-by date so there’s no similar momentum. That’s also the good news about what we’re doing: we can collect, store, and distribute sensibly and where/when needed without worrying about anything going bad.

Princeton Period Project is the first effort of its kind in this area. We’re not talking about luxuries — but necessities. We can’t solve the whole problem but we’re going to do our best, and we’re encouraged by the early and very positive response. Many similar programs in place nationally are linked to homeless shelters or women’s prisons; ours is different in that we’re trying to meet broader community needs.

We welcome community support, donations of products or funds, and questions and suggestions. Also, we will be collecting FHPs at McCaffrey’s Supermarket in the Princeton Shopping Center on Saturday November 17. Stop by, shop, and learn more.

The Princeton Period Project Collection will hold a collection Saturday, November 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at McCaffrey’s Market in Princeton. Shop for and drop off unopened packages of tampons and pads for those in need. Details at www.princetonperiod.org.

Gordon, a Monmouth Junction resident, is happily retired and now volunteering full-time for a variety of nonprofits in greater Mercer County after a career in human resources.

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