• Kharissa Forte

The War Against Period Poverty

Photo by Giving Hope & Help

Let's talk about that time of the month.

Insert eye roll here.

For a lot of us as American women, a period is just an inevitable annoyance that comes around every month. Then, of course, there are those months when a visit from Aunt Flo is a miraculous blessing of epic proportions.

I think about the time when my mother first taught me about the menstrual cycle and it truly tickles me.

I was lying on my back on the kitchen counter as she washed my hair. I was 10 years old. I remember her laughing at my dramatic response to the grossest thing I had ever heard of in my life. At the same time, there was a part of me that was excited about this right of passage into womanhood.

I actually predicted the day my period would start: November 27, 1997. (Yes, I still remember!) It was Thanksgiving at my grandma's house and I was so excited, I ran out of the bathroom and told the entire family.

Lord, have mercy.

A couple of years ago, I began to prepare my own daughter for her period. When she started on January 4 this year, I cried like a baby.

While these moments cultivated fond memories for me, my mother, and my daughter, for hundreds of girls around the world it's a different story.

According to the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA), period poverty "refers to the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and educations, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management."

Jessica McClellan, founder and president of Giving Hope & Help

I sat down with Jessica McClellan, founder and president of Giving Hope & Help, a non-profit organization founded in 2013 in Kansas City that works towards putting an end to period poverty on a local and global level.

KF: What inspired you to start Giving Hope & Help?

JM: I always had a very heavy cycle. When I was a teenager, I was sexually assaulted and I was in an emotionally abusive relationship as an adult. After losing a dear friend to domestic violence, I launched Giving Hope & Help with the purpose of providing survivors of domestic violence with the least donated items of dignity: sanitary napkins and tampons. Right away, we collected over 5,000 feminine products and supported two local shelters.

KF: I didn't think about how domestic violence could play a role in period poverty.

JM: The original goal was to speak out against domestic violence and ensure that when a survivor had the courage to leave and flee to a safe haven or shelter, period products would be accessible. I know how hard it is to leave an abusive or toxic relationship and my goal was to ensure the items of dignity were available when needed. Shelters should aim and purpose for their clients to have no reason to return to abuse.

KF: There are so many women who haven't heard about period poverty.

JM: Period poverty is a real health issue locally and across the globe. Many are faced with managing their monthly cycle without proper feminine care and this can lead to health problems. In many countries, women have to go without or use dirty rags, hay, grass, cowhides wrapped in cloth, and several other inhumane solutions. They don't have a choice. Period products are the least items people think of to donate to places of refuge. I personally want to bring awareness to period products being essential and advocate for them to be free across the country.

KF: What alarms you the most about period poverty?

JM: High school graduation rates for girls in Africa are low due to period poverty. It's really an issue in Africa, Haiti, Cambodia, and Mexico. Girls miss five to seven days of school every month because of a lack of feminine care. Many have to choose between feminine care or feeding their families.

KF: How can we get involved?

JM: Head to our website, register to volunteer, and make tax-deductible donations. With the coronavirus, a lot of our events have been canceled or postponed.

KF: Giving Hope & Help is known for awarding scholarships in addition to providing feminine products. Will you still be able to award scholarships this year?

JM: Yes, and this year we're making history! We're awarding more scholarships during the pandemic than ever in the organization's history. On July 30, we'll host our Education Is Your Passport Scholarship Program where we'll award 22 scholarships, including one full ride scholarship to MCC - Penn Valley. We always need the support of the community. More information about how you can help our scholarship fund is on our website.

Highlight Video from Education Is Your Passport Scholarship Program 2019

KF: With the connection to domestic violence, does Giving Hope & Help encourage men to get involved?

JM: Absolutely! For the last few years, our Annual Feminine Hygiene Product Drive theme has been Real Men Support Women or Real Men Don't Hit Women. We encourage male organizations to support and stand with us against domestic violence. Many male organizations and men have joined the movement and donate to the cause and attend our annual drives.

KF: Your organization gives back on so many levels, it's really incredible.

JM: Giving is in my DNA. I come from a legacy of givers and community leaders.

KF: What's next on your radar?

JM: We plan to expand our programs and initiatives to make a larger impact and advocate against domestic violence. We'll also expand the scholarship program to include paid internships with Fortune 500 companies and training for scholarship recipients. Last but not least, we'll increase our giving to find a cure for cancer and continue to inspire cancer patients in honor of my late niece, who lost her battle with cancer after fighting for six years.

KF: Do you have a mantra?

JM: I live to give hope, give help, and give love. Period.

Connect with Giving Hope & Help on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. Learn more about the organization and how you can get involved at givinghopeandhelp.org.

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