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Ending period poverty: Galesburg non-profit addresses flow of menstrual supplies to those in need

Period Poverty Awareness Week is May 23-29.

Lee Ann Porter founded Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank in 2015 to address diaper need in her community.

Since then, the organization has expanded from the founder’s home to a 5,000-square-foot warehouse serving most of west central Illinois and has distributed 1.5 million diapers to families in need.

In 2018, the National Diaper Bank Network formed the Alliance for Period Supplies.

That prompted Loving Bottoms to begin addressing another need in the communities it serves – providing tampons, pads, pantyliners, and menstrual cups to those who can’t afford them.

“We were blessed to get a donation from Kotex to help us kick off our program. Everything came together and we were able to start getting those products out alongside our diapers,” Porter said.

Loving Bottoms assembles “period kits” and partners with various social service agencies to get the supplies where they are needed -- and the demand is strong.

“We’re sending out more than 400 a month right now,” Porter said.

As with diapers, the cost of menstrual products keeps rising.

In addition, isolation from normal support systems and loss of income during the pandemic exacerbated the problem for many.

Supporters of Loving Bottoms kicked off Period Poverty Awareness Week with a “Bloody Mary Brunch” at Reserve Artisan Ales, a craft brewery in downtown Galesburg.

In addition to the Bloody Marys, there were strawberry mimosas, “Go with the Flow” mocktails, and a period-themed selfie station.

The more than two hundred attendees, many of them dressed in red, made donations to keep period supplies flowing to those in need and hashtagged their social media posts from the event “a bloody good time” and “end period poverty.”

Two of every five attendees were given stickers upon entering the event.

Porter later asked those with stickers to stand.

“This is what period poverty looks like,” Porter said. “Two out of five cannot afford menstrual products.”

That also means two in five are at risk of missing work, school, or other opportunities when they don’t have the supplies they need.

Porter said the problem of period poverty is more serious than most people understand.

“It’s just not talked about a lot,” she said.

Loving Bottoms participated in a survey that indicated 4% of students in the area had missed one or more days of school because they didn’t have period supplies.

“We hear all the time from women who report missing work due to lack of access to supplies,” Porter said. “That just isn’t okay.”

Period poverty awareness is also about reducing the stigma attached to discussing menstruation.

“Generationally, people just didn’t talk about it,” Porter said. “Or we give it other names—Aunt Flow, or Shark Week, or That Time of the Month, instead of just saying what it is. It’s our period.”

While talking about periods can make those who menstruate – and those who don’t – uncomfortable, Porter said what’s truly uncomfortable is not having a pad or a tampon when you need one.

“It’s part of our normal bodily function,” Porter said. “We want people to be comfortable talking about it. Everybody. Whether you have a period or not.”

The event concluded with what Porter called “the biggest period kit packing party” the region has ever seen.

Attendees assembled 2,000 kits filled with pads, overnight pads, and pantyliners to be distributed throughout the region.

For more information on Loving Bottoms, including how to donate and volunteer, visit www.lovingbottoms.org.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.