Poverty and the Period: Products for Those in Need
(As posted on the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Intranet, 05/08/23)
For the third, consecutive year, Einstein and Montefiore are joining forces with the Westchester Bronx Society of Black Physicians (WBSBP) to fight period poverty.
It’s a shocking reality to learn that many women, adolescent girls, and transgender individuals often cannot access or afford enough period products—pads and tampons—to get through this monthly occurrence that is part of one’s natural reproductive cycle. For some, the monthly menses can begin as young as age 11 and it will continue until they are in their late 40s to mid-50s.
In the Bronx and other communities nationwide, poverty is one reason for lack of access to these critical products. Period products are not cheap, and it can often mean a choice between having some pads or something to eat.
Homelessness is a subset of poverty. The typical shelter gives out just two pads per person per month when more like 20 are the needed norm. Transgender individuals may be completely ignored.
When period products are not available, socks, pillowcases, or paper towels from public bathrooms may need to be used instead. Often, those who are homeless will leave the shelter during their periods so as not to stain the beds or furniture.
In 2016, New York City became the first U.S. locality to introduce and pass a groundbreaking package of “menstrual equity” bills. The legislation required that all NYC public schools serving students in grades 6 through 12 provide free menstrual products inside school bathrooms. But not all schools have risen to the occasion.
“One in five girls misses school due to a lack of menstrual products,” said Dr. Tracey Straker, professor and vice chair of anesthesiology. “Young women have pride.”
In 2021, Dr. Straker, also the department’s officer of diversity, equity, and inclusion, established the Feminine Hygiene Initiative (FHI) to collect and deliver pads, tampons, and feminine hygiene products such as wipes, bodywash, and deodorant to Bronx shelters. Partnering with the WBSBP, which then connected with the Einstein chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), FHI raised more than $12,000 and delivered some 20,000 desperately needed items. They repeated the program again in 2022.
For 2023, the director of the program is Dr. Alexandra Bastien, associate professor of anesthesiology at Einstein and director of the department’s Anesthesiology Quality Improvement Fellowship Program at Montefiore, who also is WBSBP president. “This year, the first wave of products will go to Bronx areas of high need, particularly Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Tremont, and Baychester,” said Dr. Bastien.
Added Dr. Vilma Joseph, professor of anesthesiology at Einstein and clinical site director for Weiler Hospital, “The initiative demonstrates the dedication of our physicians, healthcare organizations and medical students towards enhancing our relationship with the local community.”
Specific recipient organizations of the donated goods will include the student-run Einstein Community Health Outreach (ECHO) clinic and area shelters such as the Living Room and Win (Women in Need).
“We look forward to serving our Bronx community and preserving the dignity of people suffering period poverty,” said Dr. Bastien.
How You Can Help
“Collection bins are out in multiple locations, and we hope they fill quickly,” said Mahlet Shibre, Class of 2026, who is this year’s SNMA community outreach chair. “We also hope that the FHI not only provides people with period products but raises awareness of this health and hygiene issue.”
“Initiatives like the FHI are an important part of the medical student experience,” added Mohanlall “MT” Teloki, director of student life at Einstein. “Delivering this kind of help to people in need, especially those who are homeless, disadvantaged, or passed over because of their gender, is fully in line with Einstein and Montefiore’s social justice mission.”
To donate, place your maxi- or mini-pads, tampons, feminine wipes, deodorant, and body wash in the FHI bins that have been set up in the Belfer and Forchheimer lobbies and in the housing complex at 1925/1935 at Einstein. They also can be found in several locations within Montefiore, including in the cafeteria at Moses and Weiler campuses and across from the cafeteria at Wakefield.
Bins will remain in place through May 31. Volunteers will help package up and distribute donated products for delivery. To join the SNMA’s corps of volunteers and help assemble bags of donated products for distribution, contact Mahlet Shibre at email@example.com.
If you prefer to support the program with a donation in dollars, please visit justgiving.com/campaign/periodpoverty2023.
Help make period poverty a thing of the past.