SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Across the board, most people would probably agree with the thought that there is nothing luxurious about experiencing a menstrual cycle.
“Menstrual products are essentially taxed as a luxury product, they’re not taxed like a medical product would be or something that is essential,” said Michelle Pompei.
She and Rubi McGrory co-run Project Period Savannah, which aims to normalize periods by fighting tampon taxes.
“Period products are an essential product — period, end of story, that’s it,” Pompei told News 3. “They should not be taxed, but they are.”
While the average person going through “that time of the month” — as having a period is commonly referred to — may think nothing of making a quick trip to the store to pick up the supplies they need to get through the week, access to pads, tampons and pantyliners is not so easy for everyone.
Many people struggle to afford these essentials.
“A lot of people just assume that if you’re on food stamps, it’ll purchase these products, and you can’t,” said Sharron Champion, co-founder and executive director of the Greenville, South Carolina-based Homeless Period Project.
“[The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children] does not offer these products, Medicaid….there’s not any government project out there that supplies these products,” Champion said.
The difficulty in paying for menstrual supplies is why some groups in Georgia and South Carolina have begun addressing that need.
WSAV.com Now spoke with some of the people involved in these organizations to find out how they got started, and why easy access to menstrual products is so important.
Period Pantry, Georgia Southern University-Armstrong Campus
Nora Cook, a member of Georgia Southern University’s (GSU) Feminists United group, says her idea for starting the campus Period Pantry stemmed from a personal crisis.
“I am an underprivileged independent college student, much like 60 percent of other independent college students,” Cook said. “I live below the poverty line, and I had a moment where I did not have the funds to provide products for myself.”
Cook said she then found herself in a position of being not only able to help herself, but also others facing similar situations.
She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so after some research, in March of 2019, she reached out to Champion and the Homeless Period Project.
“I asked, ‘Hey, I would like to start a program on my campus? What resources do you have that you think could help me get started?’” Cook said.
The organization then arranged to send a donation of sanitary supplies to GSU’s Period Pantry through Amazon.
“That was just so motivating and optimistic to know that all it takes is just asking, and there’s somebody there that’s like, ‘Yes, let’s do this,’” Cook said.
Feminists United approached GSU’s Dean of Students office and former dean Andrew Dies about the Period Pantry initiative.
The university already had a Captain’s Cupboard that distributed food supplies twice a month to students on campus experiencing food insecurity.
“We have about anywhere from 60 to 70 students that take advantage of the food part [of the cupboard], but they can also check, if they are interested, in Period Pantry products that can be included,” said Dr. Mark Whitesel, interim dean of students at Georgia Southern.
“Feminists United then will put those packets together and get them to us, and we include those in that distribution,” Whitesel said.
The Period Pantry, which provides free bags filled with a few pads and tampons in addition to the products found in some women’s restrooms on campus, now serves about 30 students — and even some GSU employees.
“I’ve even had staff come up to me and be like, ‘Thank you so much! I had a situation where I was not prepared, and because that basket was available to me, I was able to take care of myself and get back to my class,’” Cook said.
The hardworking GSU students who handle the Period Pantry take time out of their busy study schedules just to put the packages together.
“Our period pantries are tended by mostly students and quite a few community members, as well,” Cook said. “It goes to show that we’re not being apathetic, we want to make a change and we’re willing to do the work.”
She and Dallas Weathers, who co-runs both Feminists United and the student-led Period Pantry, hope to make the project inclusive for everyone that needs supplies on campus.
The goal is to have the products available in every campus bathroom to provide access for transgender and gender-nonconforming people that also menstruate, Cook said, adding that they’re currently planning to expand their presence so that “everybody’s covered.”
“It really helps put into perspective the number of people who can’t afford it or who can’t reach out, because this is such a necessity for people who have periods and people who menstruate,” Weathers said. “The idea of not being able to have that, it’s a blow that a lot of people just don’t think about that often.”
Project Period Savannah
In January 2017 following the presidential election, Michelle Pompei and Rubi McGrory teamed up with a strong desire to do something positive for the Savannah community.
Their initial focus was on helping homeless people, who have been known to use items ranging from plastic bags to socks and shirts to substitute for sanitary products that they couldn’t purchase.
As they started getting the word out in the community, they began hearing from teachers, nurses and students saying there was no access to menstrual products in their schools.
That’s when Pompei and McGrory decided to shift their focus to the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.
“We work with the head nurse of [the school system], and she distributes them to all the different schools,” McGrory said, from high schools down to elementary.
Pompei added that students as young as those in the fourth grade are menstruating.
“No student should go without, whether it’s because they forgot a pad or a tampon or because they can’t afford it,” she said, noting that one in five students miss school because they don’t have access to menstrual products at home.
“If they’re staying at home, they’re not able to learn, they’re missing school, they’re missing out and that puts them behind,” Pompei said. “We want students to be able to focus on what’s going on at school and not have to worry about really what is a basic need.”
In 2019, Project Period Savannah says they collected just under 20,000 menstrual products for Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.
“Last year was a banner year, we had someone offer to throw a period party, and women and men in Savannah came and brought products,” McGrory said. “In that one party alone, we got over 10,000 products.”
The organization recently had a donation of several hundred dollars from a group called Joined in Giving, or JIG, which showed just how expensive menstrual products can be.
“They offered to either give us that amount of money or donated products, and we opted for the donated products,” Pompei said.
“And when you think of $600 worth of period products, you think that that’s going to fill a room, and the reality is that it filled the back of an SUV,” she said.
While they currently do not have any period parties planned, the duo does accept donations and can help people in the community set up events of their own.
“Every woman has at least nine horror stories about being caught without products, and on the side of privilege, it’s funny, ‘I didn’t have it, I was at this place and I had to spend 20 dollars on a small box of it,’” McGrory said.
“It also highlights that for some people, that’s not a once-a-year thing or once every five years, it’s every single month when it happens,” she said, adding, “This is a need! We need these products.”
Project Period Savannah accepts donations through the Amazon Wish List on their Facebook page, which you can visit here.
They can also be messaged on Instagram and can arrange for local pickups or provide a local address where donations can be sent.
You can also reach Pompei and McGrory by email at email@example.com.