Republished with permission from The Renewal Project

Over the summer, I helped my school club and nonprofit organization This Club Saves Lives put together backpacks full of school supplies for homeless youth in our community. One item that had been donated were little bags intended for holding pencils and pens. They reminded me of the pouch my mother gave me in the fifth grade to discreetly keep my menstrual pads. This got me thinking about two things: I wondered why we as girls have always been taught to keep our period products hidden away in our shirt sleeves or in cute bags. I also had the realization that these homeless students in our area may be lacking access to tampons and pads, because they are an expensive necessity.

After doing some more research, and learning that tampons and pads are the most needed yet least donated items to homeless shelters, I proposed “Tampon Tuesday” to This Club Saves Lives, and the members were on board with the idea of an ongoing menstrual product drive. The drive quickly turned into a campaign to end the stigma around periods and the way we approach—or rather the way we avoid—the subject as a whole.

The first step was educating my classmates and campus staff about this lack of access that low-income girls and homeless women face. At first, students and some teachers were hesitant to approach the subject and a couple teachers didn’t want anything to do with the donation boxes I was passing out. This just made me want to show how important this issue is. Through social media and presentations, I was able to shed light on some shocking stats about this issue.

Girls in the United States can miss up to five days of school per month if their family cannot afford this product. Lobbyists in various states are working to make these products universally available in schools—especially those with a 40 percent or more poverty rate.

Many homeless women who cannot afford these products resort to using socks, rags, or paper towels; on top of that many do not have access to showers or places to wash their clothes. This can lead to infections and it makes it harder for these ladies to get on their feet and feel confident in themselves. This lack of cleanliness is completely stripping them of their dignity, making this a human rights issue.

Not only can you not use food stamps to purchase tampons and pads, these products are subject to sales taxes, whereas other personal care items, like lip balm and dandruff shampoo, are not. People call this the pink tax, touching on the fact that period products are a necessity yet in most states they are taxed as luxuries.

Last month, I presented Tampon Tuesday at the California State Leadership conference at the middle and high school events to over 400 students. The feedback and love I received from students who are passionate about their communities was a great feeling. In September, my Tampon Tuesday project will be recognized at #iCanHelp’s Digital4Good event hosted by Facebook. By continuing to share my message and call more students to action, I hope I can inspire others to find an issue they are passionate about to focus in on in their communities.

Through the use of social media sites, school video bulletins, the support of the WE Charity and The Allstate Foundation, we have been able to grow this important conversation and inform and help community members. So far, we have donated over 10,000 period products to various shelters and outreach programs. While this is an incredible accomplishment, I am just as proud of the way my school is now able to openly talk about tampons. After this year long drive and my involvement in This Club Saves Lives for three years, I am proud of the legacy I will be leaving when I graduate in June—I’m also totally okay with forever being known as “The Tampon Girl.”

Clementine Chamberlain is a senior at Carmel High School in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

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