The Homeless Period Project helps girls obtain hygiene products

From local schools to hurricane shelters in Texas, women and girls are finding support and reclaiming dignity through the work of an Upstate nonprofit organization.

The Homeless Period Project was founded right here in Greenville and puts period packs (pads, tampons and wipes) in the hands of those who can’t afford or can’t access menstrual hygiene products. The result can change lives.

Sharron Phillips, co-founder of the organization, said it started with realizing the need.

“My sister-in-law, Stephanie Arnold, read an article in Huffington Post about homeless women in the U.K., about the struggles they have because they don’t have these products,” she said. “We quickly found out that it’s the same here. We felt so compelled that we should do something about it.”

Phillips said they started by doing research and then they held an event to gather supplies.

“One of the ladies said, ‘If you’ll come speak, I’ll have one at my house and invite my friends,’” Phillips said. “We had not thought beyond that first event.”

The project took off and word spread. From the initial goal of helping homeless women and girls, the reach has expanded. A school nurse called and asked if girls had to be homeless to receive supplies. Her students were in need.

“We immediately took them some packs,” Phillips said.

Here at home and around the world, girls miss school when they can’t afford menstrual hygiene items. The missed days add up and can have a direct impact on their education and even their ability to graduate. During the 2016–17 school year, the Homeless Period Project helped local schools on an as-needed basis. Phillips soon learned the need is great. The project served about 1,000 students each month in 41 schools.

“It wasn’t anything official,” she said. “We were just helping.”

For the current school year, Greenville County Schools has made it official, with the Homeless Period Project supplying menstrual hygiene items – for students, packs included pads and wipes – for girls in need in all middle and high schools in Greenville County. The organization also supplies elementary schools as needed.

The result is simple, but makes an impact. Girls who had to miss school each month can now attend class.

“When a school starts running low, we call our volunteers to make deliveries,” Phillips said. “It’s quite a challenge, but when you believe in something and know the need …”

The stories keep Phillips going.

“One girl told me she was homeless on and off from she was 9 until 18,” Phillips said. “When she started her period, very rarely did she have these products. It was horrifying some of the ways she had to make do so she could go to school.”

The organization now has two divisions of the same project. Period packs meet the needs of girls in school and women and girls who are homeless or low income. Other resources to meet the need are very limited.

“Not only are these products taxed as luxury items, if you are on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), you can’t buy these items (with SNAP funds),” Phillips said. “It’s very sad. People are struggling.”

Phillips is working toward the goal of having menstrual hygiene items excluded from tax and added to the list of items that can be purchased with SNAP funds.

The Homeless Period Project now has chapters in 13 states. It supplied 60,000 period packs in its first two years, all without grant money or corporate sponsors. Women – and sometimes men and children – hold gatherings in their homes or host “period parties” at local venues. Volunteers bring supplies and pack them for distribution.

Beyond the physical products, Phillips said the project is making the subject open for discussion.

“Because it can be so taboo, a girl may not say why she isn’t going to school,” she said. “We’re trying to tell our girls to go in the classroom and focus and learn.”

Discussion can be the catalyst for change. The project has certainly radically altered Phillips’ path.

“It shouldn’t be horrifying to go in a store and buy a box of tampons,” Phillips said. “I was that girl that kept the products pushed down in my purse. I always say God’s got a sense of humor. If you had told me at 15 or 16 that God’s plan was for me to be the face of pads and tampons in Greenville County, I would have said, ‘Take it back!Tack it back!’”

Volunteers are needed to help in the Homeless Period Project’s mission to distribute dignity to women and girls in need.

Homeless Period Project provides feminine hygiene products to women, girls in need

By Emily Pietras May 5, 2017

Having dependable access to pads, tampons, and other feminine hygiene products is a necessity for any woman who gets a period. But across the country, many homeless and economically disadvantaged women find themselves without these products, either because they cannot afford them or because agencies like shelters do not have them readily available.

It wasn’t an issue that Sharron Phillips ever considered until June 2015, when her sister-in-law, Stephanie Arnold, shared an article about the difficulties homeless women in the United Kingdom face in accessing feminine hygiene products. “Never once had I thought about what homeless women do while on their periods,” Phillips says.

The two women wondered if this lack of access was also a problem for homeless women in Greenville, so they called a few shelters to inquire about the frequency of donations. They quickly discovered a pattern. “Everyone said very rarely do they see donations of menstrual products, and if they do, they’re the first things gone,” Phillips recalls.

She and Arnold decided to host an event called the Homeless Period Project to collect donations and assemble “period packs” — which include a supply of pads, tampons, liners, and feminine wipes — to deliver to local shelters. The two women didn’t have a specific plan going forward, Phillips says, but when a guest said she wanted to host her own event, they agreed to help.

The concept soon caught on, and the Homeless Period Project ultimately evolved into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with Phillips and Arnold as co-founders. As its name would indicate, the Homeless Period Project initially supplied donations to street ministries and shelters, but it has since branched out to assist low-income individuals.

Phillips estimates that the Homeless Period Project, which now serves all of South Carolina, donates to between 30 and 40 entities in the Upstate alone. Current recipients include the Salvation Army, Place of Hope Day Shelter, Samaritan’s House, the Julie Valentine Center, Safe Harbor, some Title I schools in the Greenville County School District, and free medical clinics, among others.

“There is a great need for feminine hygiene products at the Salvation Army Women and Children’s Shelter,” says Rachel Wilkes, development director at the Salvation Army. “[They] are not frequently donated by the public, and when they do get donated, it is usually in small amounts. We are very grateful for the quantity and quality of hygiene products donated by the Homeless Period Project, as we do not have worries of running out.”

The cost of feminine hygiene products varies depending on brand and quantity, but for homeless and low-income women, even the least expensive generic products, which may cost between $4-6, can be challenging to afford. To add to that cost, South Carolina is one of 40 states that taxes feminine hygiene products as a “retail luxury.” In March 2016, the Post and Courier reported that some state lawmakers were considering introducing legislation to eliminate the so-called tampon tax, but it is currently still in effect.

Because having access to feminine hygiene products is so critical to women’s health, some women will ultimately resort to shoplifting if they’re desperate enough. “If you’re down to $10 and you’ve got meals to buy, then spending $5 on pads or tampons is just expensive,” Phillips says. “It’s sad how often we go shopping for these products and we see bags [of pads] already open or two or three tampons missing from a box.”

Both Jason Evans, community outreach specialist at New Horizon Family Health Services, and Nick Bush, program manager of United Ministries’ Place of Hope Day Shelter, have seen firsthand how the cost of feminine hygiene products impacts homeless and low-income women — and how the Homeless Period Project is helping to meet a critical need.

“Most of the women we see are transient and have no funds in order to purchase these products. The Homeless Period Project has been a huge help in supplying our need of feminine hygiene products,” Bush says. “I can tell you women really rely on us to have the products they need. Most of them have nowhere else to go to get access to these products.”

“I have been distributing the products to women we meet on the street and also women we are seeing on the mobile unit,” Evans says, “The women on the street mention that they often go without products, because any money they do come into goes toward food.”

Those who are interested in becoming involved with the Homeless Period Project have a variety of options. In addition to attending the organization’s events, which are sporadically held at various local businesses, individuals can host their own events to assemble period packs, help with deliveries to shelters and other locations, and donate supplies or money.

Looking ahead, Phillips hopes to add more volunteers to reach out to other institutions and find out what their needs are. “We’re just touching a small base. We’re finding out about a lot of school-age girls without these products,” she says. “As of now, we’re averaging 3,000 women and girls per month, and half of those are students. It’s sad to me that there’s such a need, but I’m proud that we’re finding it and helping it.”

Homeless Period Project provides feminine hygiene products to women, girls in need

Stephanie Arnold & Sharron Phillips on the Need and Reach of Greenville’s Homeless Period Project

As part of our ongoing series featuring Southern women changing the world for the  better, we asked the co-founders of Greenville, South Carolina’s Homeless Period Project to answer a few questions about their organizing and activism. Stephanie Arnold and Sharron Phillips talked about their SC roots, their families, and the overwhelming support of their community in getting basic period supplies to the girls and women who need them. Read on and find out how you can help.

Tell us about yourselves.

Stephanie:  I was born and raised in Easley, SC, to loving and hard-working parents.  Neither parent graduated from high school, and I am the first in my family to graduate from college.  I graduated from Clemson University and worked as a paralegal for the last 22 years.  I recently decided to become a “stay at home mom” to my children Abigail and Evan.

Sharron:  I was born in Anderson, SC.  My brothers and I were raised by my mom who struggled financially to support us. During my formative years, we lived in government-subsidized apartments where everyone was poor. The elementary school we attended was made up of kids with the same economic backgrounds as us; most of us were free lunch kids. I remember my mom having a full-time job along with two part-time jobs to make ends meet – without a complaint. She encouraged us to work hard and get an education; to never use the excuse of where we came from as to why we didn’t succeed.  I have worked for Greenville County for the past eight years, and I’m a proud mom of my son, Champion, and my daughter, Isabella.

What is the Homeless Period Project?

The Homeless Period Project is a 501(c)(3) organization that provides homeless and underemployed women/girls free basic menstrual hygiene products.

What motivated you to get started?

After reading a Huffington Post article in May 2015 about a similar group in the UK, we called our local shelters and found that feminine products were the least donated items to our local women’s shelters.  Some women go without these items each month and are forced to find alternatives to meet their needs. We not only want to bring awareness to this issue but also help end the stigma. Menstruation shouldn’t be something we are embarrassed of or ashamed to talk about.

In June of 2015, we had our first “Period Party.”  We asked for donations of maxi pads, tampons, liners, and individually wrapped feminine wipes. We created the event on Facebook and invited anyone and everyone to make donations and come to the event to put together period packs. That one-time event, turned into our project.

Since June of 2015, many volunteers have hosted Period Parties, collecting donated items and creating period packs which are given to women on the streets and shelters. Since its inception, The Homeless Period Project has provide period packs to free medical clinics, school nurses of Title I schools, the American Red Cross, resettled refugees throughout South Carolina, the Julie Valentine Center, food banks and backpack programs. These packs provide a woman/girl, the necessary items to last them through a cycle. To date we have donated over 16,000 period packs. This has all been possible through the kindness and generosity of the people within our communities. We are now located throughout South Carolina, the Western Carolinas, Augusta, GA, Savannah GA, and Stamford, CT.  We have helped start a project in Seattle, WA, and assisted in planning an event in New Hampshire, Iowa, New York, and one happening next month in Orange County, CA.

Who are your allies and supporters?

We have been moved by the strong support of other women in our community.  We see women from all walks of life at our parties.  We often say that when a group of women come together, great things are accomplished.  We are seeing that with this project.

Who inspires you?

We are inspired by the people who give selflessly to help others.  We also get inspiration from people who have been dealt a bad hand in life but never give up.  No matter how life knocks them around, they make a decision to work even harder and still show kindness to others.

Any obstacles?

I have a full-time job and Stephanie still has young children at home, so with the project growing at a fast pace, it can be a challenge to juggle everything.  However, when you are passionate about what you have been called to do, it doesn’t feel like stress. It’s a welcomed challenge.

What’s on the horizon for the Homeless Period Project?

We are excited to see what the journey will be for our project in 2017!  Due to the great need, HPP must continue to grow. We’re currently seeking company sponsorships and applying for grants to help us meet these needs.

How can folks help?

Individuals or groups can help in many ways!  Someone can help by just sharing our post on social media, making donations, hosting a Period Party and/or joining our team.

Stephanie Arnold & Sharron Phillips on the Need and Reach of Greenville’s Homeless Period Project