As a new student at NC A&T State University, Lena Vann learned how difficult it was to find affordable menstrual supplies.
“As a college student, they were not always accessible or available to me,” she said.
That experience and attending a school with activism in its DNA led Vann to start The Black Period Project, an organization that provides supplies to schools – mostly to Title 1 middle schools in the Triad. The Black Period Project started in 2019 and since that time has delivered hundreds of packs of pads, liners, and wipes along with a resource card so students would know which adults in the school were storing them.
When school buildings were closed in the pandemic, the project delivered hygiene packs to student food pick-up points.
Vann, now a rising senior, said she always keeps hygiene kits in her car for homeless menstruators.
“As someone who feels privileged to attend school, I thought, what about people who can’t advocate for themselves? What about young girls or trans boys? Who is helping them? When I looked at the period advocacy space, there were not a lot of Black women or young Black women. I decided in March 2019 it was going to be me.”
While period poverty for years has been framed as an international problem, there’s more awareness of its impact in the United States. Realizing that some students are missing school because they cannot afford period products, states have begun taking steps to ease some of the financial burden.
The Georgia legislature put $1.5 million in its budget this year for menstrual supplies for schools and community centers in low-income areas, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
A new Vermont law requires schools make the products free in female and gender-neutral bathrooms.
A handful of other states require schools to make supplies freely available in all public school bathrooms or in low-income schools.
In North Carolina, the Senate budget proposes to make $250,000 in grants available to schools for feminine hygiene products.
State Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham Democrat, proposed a bill that would make the money available. The state Department of Public Instruction supports the line item. Murdock said that GOP Sen. Deanna Ballard, who helps lead the Senate’s education budget committee, advocated for including the money in the Senate spending plan.
Murdock said she considers the $250,000 funding a pilot project to see who applies for the money. An immediate focus is trying to keep the proposal in the version of the budget the House is writing.
“This pilot program is the first step. We need to take this issue of period poverty seriously, and follow our neighbors such as Georgia,” she said.
Diaper Bank of North Carolina started On the Spot in 2016, delivering period products to schools that want them. Diaper Bank executive director Michelle Old said it would probably cost about $500,000 to supply all the schools.
Teachers in middle and high schools know some menstruating students miss school because they cannot afford hygiene products, Old said.
“We really feel that period supplies are school supplies and dignity is not a privilege and it is not something that menstruating individuals should have to make a choice about,” Old said.