On July 11, 2018, Boise Period Project launches its first distribution day, providing personalized packs of menstrual products to homeless organizations and low-income community members across the city. These packs contain five maxi pads, three liners, 15 tampons, five cleansing wipes, and hand sanitizer to cover one cycle.
As the fastest growing city in the country, Boise is receiving an influx of people from many different states, backgrounds, and financial situations. As the demographics of the state and city change, members from every corner of the community are actively seeking out ways to help the underserved communities in Idaho’s liberal nook.
“We believe having access to menstrual products is a human right, not a privilege,” said Macarah Heller, Founder and Director of Boise Period Project. “They have free toilet paper in restrooms, why can’t they have free tampons? Or pads? That would be so easy.”
Across the globe, the inaccessibility of menstrual products is a consistent source of inequity for people who menstruate. While Boise Period Project is currently targeting the homeless community in Boise, they hope to expand outside the immediate Boise area, and to target low-income communities as well.
Menstrual product nonprofits are not uncommon in the states. Organizations like period.org provide communities with ‘chapter’ opportunities, where individuals can request for their schools and communities to be included in the organization’s campaign. However, Heller wanted to skip the mediator and address the menstrual product distribution problem in a personalized, community oriented way by getting her hands dirty, grassroots style.
Reaching Out to the Homeless Community
“The reason we started with the homeless community as the recipients of these products was because it seemed like the easiest demographic to get them to,” said Heller. “We can take them to the shelters and we can be outside the shelters to provide them, but with low-income communities it’s like, ‘How do we go about distributing these products?’”
Heller, who has never worked with the homeless community prior to starting Boise Period Project, reached out to local shelters to gain some insight into their needs and what was being provided to people in need of menstrual products. She was met with resistance from the local shelters who let her know they did not have a need for menstrual products and did not want to be involved with her project.
“Essentially what they told us was that a lot of the people who come to their shelter either have mental health issues or drug issues and so they’re not always in the right frame of mind to be caring for themselves in that way anyway,” said Adam Wright, Head of Media and Marketing.
While shelters like Corpus Christi and Interfaith Sanctuary receive donations for menstrual products, the products aren’t being distributed to guests. Heller and Wright believe this has to do with the accessibility of these products in shelters, as guests are required to ask the staff for products and receive them as individually packaged products rather than a pack that will provide them with a full cycle’s worth of menstrual products.
“Women don’t feel comfortable asking for products when it’s not just women around,” Heller said. “We’re already trying to end the stigma with periods in general but I’ve heard that, especially in the homeless community, there’s extra shame attached to it.”
Creating a Safe Space
The Boise Period Project logo depicts an androgynous figure with an equality symbol within a heart, which is one of several ways the organization has developed their identity around inclusivity for people of all gender identities. Heller feels this is particularly important due to the loss of personal identity that people often suffer under homelessness.
“It’s just a quick categorization to talk about women or ‘female’ hygiene,” Heller said. “Even though it’s a small percentage of homeless people who are non-binary and trans, we want to let them know they’re included in what we’re doing.”
Inclusivity is the reason behind their name, logo and the specific language used by Heller: ‘people who menstruate’ rather than ‘women,’ and ‘menstrual products,’ instead of ‘feminine hygiene products.’ Heller referenced the homeless organizations in Boise and how the religious roots of shelters like Corpus Christi can prevent members of the LGBT community from getting the services they need, as they may not feel safe or respected there.
“We want to let them know that we are accepting and inclusive because the last thing we want is someone to be hesitant because they don’t know if we’re a safe space or not,” Heller said. “We just want to make sure that anyone who needs these products feels comfortable getting them from us,” said Wright.
Boise Period Project also hopes to reach refugees. Although this has been a goal since the beginning, they were unsure they’d be able to expand to reach these marginalized groups until their first board meeting in early June. Kate Aravich of Idaho Diaper Bank, who is on the board of directors for Boise Period Project and who has been in the nonprofit world for years, put Heller and Wright at ease. “Kate isn’t concerned with finding the people who need it at all,” Heller said.
Connecting With the Community
According to Heller, the Boise Women and Children’s Alliance (WCA) is the first homeless organization to get on board with Boise Period Project.
“We are very grateful to be a recipient,” said Christine Davis, Communications Manager for the WCA. “Feminine hygiene products is something we can never have enough of here.”
According to Davis, the WCA runs out of donated goods, especially tampons. The organization does not receive ongoing donations of menstrual products and depends on community drives and fundraisers to provide products to the community they serve.
The WCA sets products out to be taken easily by members of the community. “People just walk in and take things [they need].” Davis said. “[Menstrual products] shouldn’t be considered a luxury item.”
The goal for Boise Period Project’s launch date is to have three shelters or organizations on board for distribution sites. Along with the WCA, they are hoping to involve organizations like Love Inc and shelters like Interfaith Sanctuary and Corpus Christi.
Heller is still working on acquiring Boise Period Project’s nonprofit status. The organization is currently receiving legal advice through the Boise Library’s Nonprofits and Business Startups Law Clinic, and hope to receive nonprofit status within the next few months.
“Every step of the way, there have been a lot of people coming and jumping in to help,” Wright said, in response to the number of people who have reached out to Boise Period Project.
“I don’t want to say I’m surprised because that sounds like I don’t believe in the community, but I’ve just been kind of overwhelmed with the amount of support, even just starting out,” said Heller.
Heller describes one of the Boise Period Project’s biggest obstacles as getting in touch with their audience. The organization plans on reassessing need and impact after their first distribution date in July.
If you know of an organization that could use their services, get in touch with Boise Period Project through their website or social media pages.