Pads, tampons and other menstrual products are typically handled discreetly, hidden in pockets or long sleeves during the walk to the bathroom and discussed in low voices, if they’re discussed at all.
But boxes stuffed full of period supplies were the center of attention Monday afternoon as students and staff at Centralia Middle School accepted a donation from Women United for an initiative the organization named “Supplies Period.”
In total, Women United collected 4,230 individual pads and liners, 4,009 individual tampons, 56 pairs of period underwear, 36 pairs of panties, 17 packs of cleansing wipes, 14 menstrual disks, 20 miscellaneous bags for students to store products in and 10 pairs of leggings to donate to Centralia Middle School.
The supplies will be divided into brown paper bags that students can grab from the counselor’s office as needed.
“I think the support of young women, young ladies becoming women, it shows the support of our community,” Superintendent Lisa Grant said.
Women Untied, an affiliate of United Way of Lewis County, has been collecting donated period supplies since early August as part of an effort to reduce the number of middle school girls who have to miss school due to period poverty.
“A lot of girls don't have access to these supplies because of poverty. They are expensive and sometimes they miss school because of that,” said Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston during United Way’s Power of the Purse event in August, as previously quoted by The Chronicle. “And then I was thinking about my school district in Centralia and thinking about the poverty levels there and wondering, ‘How many young people miss middle school because they didn't have access to basic supplies?”
In the U.S., approximately 20% of girls miss school due to an inability to obtain period supplies, according to a study cited by Women United.
Middle school girls particularly reported a lack of period supplies as their primary reason for missing school, according to Women United.
“Attendance is one of the major factors in middle school level, so whatever we can do to help remove that barrier so that girls can keep attending and not miss out on those educational activities,” said Centralia Middle School Principal Lara Gregorich-Bennett. “That's why the middle school level is the perfect level for this, because that's where it's most significant with the attendance issues.”
A bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in May 2021 requires Washington schools to provide free menstrual products to students in all gender neutral and female bathrooms by the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, but that mandate didn’t come with funding to aid schools in complying.
The Centralia School District buys its period products out of the school supplies line item in its budget, which covers items such as pencils and pens that go directly to students, but the products the district can afford come from a bulk supply store.
“They're really heavy. They're really thick and they're uncomfortable and they're not what people tend to want,” Gregorich-Bennett said.
“With Women United, (supplying period products) is able to happen without taking away from something else,” she added. “It gets expensive and especially with inflation and things happening, and families’ budgets are tight, and we are 78% free and reduced lunch school, which means our families are barely making it as is. It also means you have a lot of young women who aren’t educated in their own personal hygiene and are sometimes very nervous to ask anything. And they're embarrassed to have it impacting their family’s finances. So then you try and make do and try to figure out things.”
Smith Johnston brought the issue of period poverty among students to Women United’s steering committee earlier this year, which sparked the Supplies Period initiative.
“All of us sat there and shared these stories of us having our own experiences (with periods) during that time. And so it just really drew us to this program to support it because we all have personal experiences in it. No matter our walks of life, we've all experienced it. So we were all able to really rally behind it,” said Women United Co-Chair Jacki Jewell, later adding, “We as a group of Women United, our goal is to uplift women and children … What we do is we try to find programs that we can support or implement for kids and for families.”
Women United formally launched Supplies Period during Power of the Purse and its members were surprised by the strong interest attendees had for the initiative.
“It was fun at that event to see women walking in with tampons, really proud … and it just kind of changed the attitude around it,” Jewell said. “And it was something joyous at this event, instead of something that we all try to hide our stories about, we all celebrated them and we're laughing about them and sharing them at the table. So I think it just really created this relationship with women that we could all connect with and celebrate in a weird way.”
Centralia Middle School is the pilot school for the Supplies Period project, but it’s not the only school Women United intends to donate period supplies to.
“We’re excited and hope to take this countywide,” said Jewell, adding, “I think soon we'll be in a lot of schools in Lewis County, just because we have the support to allow it to grow.”