Aug 24, 2023 - News

Indy operation helps combat period poverty

Illustration of a tampon with the string forming a heart shape.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Each week, thousands of bras, pads, tampons and other products leave an Indianapolis warehouse and make their way to women and girls in need.

Why it matters: Roughly half the U.S. population will menstruate for decades of their lives, making menstrual products a necessity each month for millions of Americans, but many people can't afford those items.

State of play: I Support the Girls, a Maryland-based nonprofit, started providing bras and period products to people in need through homeless and domestic violence shelters eight years ago — and Indianapolis is a key piece of the operation.

  • The city's location at the "Crossroads of America" made it the perfect spot to warehouse donations, said Rachael Heger, director of shipping and logistics for the group.

Details: The nonprofit has provided more than 22.5 million products to 4,500 different social service agencies.

  • It also ships kits of products directly to individuals fleeing violence but staying with friends or family, rather than at a shelter.

Zoom in: The group has donated nearly 2 million products to more than 200 organizations in Indianapolis, including local schools.

Between the lines: Lack of access to period products at school can drive girls from the classroom.

  • "If there's a period accident throughout the day and the girls don't have extra clothing, they'll just sit in the office for the rest of the day and not go to classes," said Angie Beck, a PTO member at a Washington Township middle school.
  • Beck connected with I Support the Girls to get period products, underwear, leggings and other necessities for her school.

Meanwhile, other necessities, like sports bras, that aren't provided by schools can be a barrier to participation in sports and other extracurricular activities.

  • A donation of sports bras, socks, duffle bags and cosmetic items made a world of difference to the Shortridge High School cheerleading squad, said Hilari Vargo, president of the school's booster club.
  • "One of the girls emailed me and said 'We've never had anybody do this for us before,'" she said.

The big picture: For years, advocates nationwide have been pushing for menstrual equity in schools.

  • Washington, D.C., and 24 states, not including Indiana, have passed legislation to help students who menstruate have free access to period products at school, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies.

Zoom out: The Menstrual Equity For All Act that was introduced in Congress this year would allow entities that receive federal grants, including K-12 schools, to use those dollars to provide free menstrual products.

  • It would require Medicaid to cover the cost of menstrual products and all public federal buildings to provide free products in restrooms.
  • It would also direct large employers to provide free menstrual products for their employees in the workplace.
  • The act, first introduced in Congress in 2017, would also prohibit sales tax on period products.

Of note: Many states have eliminated the so-called "period tax" in recent years.

Yes, but: Indiana is one of 22 states that still taxes menstrual products.

  • Sales tax on those items brings in an estimated $5.6 million annually, according to Period Law, a group advocating to remove the tax.
  • Legislation was introduced this spring to eliminate the tax but failed to gain support in the GOP-controlled Statehouse.
  • Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said she'd try again in the 2024 legislative session.

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