Federation launches period poverty initiative

Federation launches period poverty initiative

Agency works to help women in need get necessary supplies each month

Local BBYO members assembled packages for JFNNJ’s Period Poverty —  Change the Cycle! program. From left, they are Abigail Kushman, Adina F., Stevie Schonberg, Dina Shlufman, and Sophie Conen. (All photos courtesy JFNNJ)
Local BBYO members assembled packages for JFNNJ’s Period Poverty — Change the Cycle! program. From left, they are Abigail Kushman, Adina F., Stevie Schonberg, Dina Shlufman, and Sophie Conen. (All photos courtesy JFNNJ)

Some things are generally not thought of as particularly important. Actually, they are generally not thought about much at all. They may be basic items that are necessary for every-day life but play only a supporting role and so tend to remain in the background. They are the types of things that are easily taken for granted but become important when they are missing –- when their absence causes significant stress and makes it difficult to go about daily life.

Take, for example, school supplies — generally they are basic items that play a supporting role in students’ lives and make it possible for them to function well as students. Not having access to them tends to cause significant stress.

Or cold weather gear –- gloves, hats, scarves. Items that tend not to be a focus of anyone’s attention except when they are not available.

The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has a variety of programs designed to help make the necessities of life accessible to people who need them. The Federation has a network of committed, caring, and extremely capable volunteers who spearhead these projects and partner with a variety of community organizations that distribute the items. At the beginning of the school year, teams of volunteers assemble backpacks filled with school supplies. As part of an annual “mitzvah day,” volunteers assemble and distribute toiletry and cold weather kits. And the March Mega Food Drive helps get food to people who need it.

Volunteers pack and distribute products and information to women who benefit from the packages.

Another item in this category, one that that tends to be discussed even less than the others, is menstrual products. People tend not to talk about them, not only because they generally don’t think about them unless they’re not available, but also because they often prefer to keep their monthly cycles private. It can be embarrassing to talk about them. But menstrual products certainly are necessary, and they are important. Not having access to them can cause significant stress and disruptions.

The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey recently launched an initiative to respond to this very real need. As part of the new Period Poverty Initiative, Federation is partnering with local school districts, state legislators, and a range of community organizations to raise awareness about this important issue and to collect and distribute products and raise funds to buys dispensers for schools with students in need.

This is an important issue with serious ramifications, Shara Nadler, the director of the Federation’s Volunteer Center, said. “Girls in our area are missing school every month, and young women are missing work because they don’t have access to the necessary products.” The initiative aims to collect 25,000 products and to raise funds to buy more. “We have a very engaged and passionate group of volunteers who want to help,” Ms. Nadler said. “This is a large-scale effort to keep students in school and to support families who need to work.”

Lindsey Lax is chairing the initiative, and, like Ms. Nadler, she is passionate about it. “As a woman and a mother, I’m deeply concerned about this issue,” Ms. Lax said. “The stress and anxiety of knowing that your period is coming and not being able to manage it is extraordinary. Yet you still need to manage everyday life. And this happens every month.”

Ms. Lax originally got involved in the Federation when she volunteered to serve on the committee coordinating another Federation program that helps ensure basic needs are met –- the March Mega Food Drive. “As a nutrition coach, the food drive was an important issue for me,” she said. Of course, the problem of food insecurity is not under the radar; it’s something that people know about and discuss. “The interesting thing about period poverty –- the inability to access or afford menstrual hygiene products -– is that a lot of people don’t know that this is happening in our area, it’s not on the forefront, but when you learn about it, it really makes sense. These products are expensive.”

Like the March Mega Food Drive and other Federation programs that help make basic needs accessible, the Period Poverty Initiative is being coordinated by volunteers. Anyone can get involved and help to “change the cycle of period poverty,” Ms. Lax said. Ways to help include organizing a product collection, donating products or funds, or hosting a ‘‘Red Party’’ to raise awareness and funds and to collect products.

Federation is also partnering with local state legislators including Assemblywomen Lisa Swain (D-38), Angela McKnight (D-31) and Shanique Speight (D-29), who are sponsoring bills designed to make period products more affordable and accessible for New Jersey residents. Proposals include urging Congress to require the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to include period protection products and creating the statewide Menstrual Hygiene Product Program.

“It’s important to continue raising awareness as we work to address challenges that prevent women from accessing menstrual hygiene products,” Ms. McKnight said. “Access to these products is a basic necessity,”

Ms. Swain agrees that period poverty is an important issue. In addition to the bill package she has proposed, she is working with the Federation to educate people about this problem and to encourage participation in the new Initiative. “People have to realize that this needs to be addressed,” she said. “When girls can’t afford these products, they can miss several days of school and then get behind in schoolwork and it creates a whole domino effect.”