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Shining a light on period poverty in Kansas City, efforts to address issue

Posted: 3:49 PM, Nov 09, 2023
Updated: 2023-11-09 19:35:25-05
Period Pover

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the U.S., two in five people have struggled to purchase period products at some point in their lives. This statistic shines a light on the global issue of period poverty.

VOICE FOR EVERYONE | Share your voice with KSHB 41’s Elyse Schoenig

The NIH defines period poverty as lack of access to period products and the education surrounding them.

Here’s a simple thought: when a sentence ends, you can place a period. But unfortunately, talking about periods and accessing products is not that simple for everyone.

People across the Kansas City area are looking to change this, and to figure out how we got here.

KSHB 41's Elyse Schoenig dug deeper on the need in our area, to figure out how to these efforts and conversations can become as normalized as putting a period at the end of a sentence.

The Data

Period Poverty in Schools
Data by: Alliance for Period Supplies

Missouri and Kansas both enforce the state sales tax on period products. This means period products are taxed as non-essential goods, the same way dining out or impulse purchases are.

Both states also both don’t require funding for period products in schools. In neighboring states, it’s a different story. Products are required in schools in Illinois, and funding for products is required in Minnesota and Ohio.

For this current school year, Missouri did allocate $1 million in funding for schools to provide free period products.

All of this means people want to change the narrative, and rewrite the sentences that get us there. So we talked to two nonprofit founders, a school nurse and two high school students, all across both sides of state line.

Strawberry Week

Strawberry Week

Micheala Miller founder her own nonprofit after seeing how the impact of period poverty in our spaces. Her group, Strawberry Week, make period packs for schools, organizations and public places that don’t carry period products.

“Folks have to resort to unsafe management methods such as rolled up pads, reused pads; some use socks,” Miller said.

Miller said her community work started with gatherings she’d host with friends, and asking them to bring period products, clothing and more to donate to domestic shelters in the area. It’s why she felt called to start Strawberry Week.

“Period products aren’t available in public restrooms the way that hand soap, toilet paper and paper towels are freely available,” she said.

Miller said the state sales taxes makes products less affordable, which makes them less available, and therefore less talked about.

No shame

No Shame

Another nonprofit founder said lack of access and funding form a dangerous equation. It adds a layer of stigma to periods and period products.

“I am surprised at the stigma,” Nicole Springer said. “We have to break through the shame that menstruators, as women in our society, have dealt with.”

Springer founded her nonprofit and thought "No Shame" was the perfect name for it. She said shame or embarrassment are society’s knee-jerk reactions to conversations surrounding periods and period products.

“We don’t think anyone should struggle with being able to have dignity with their body,” she said.

Springer supplies period packs to more than 35 partners across the Kansas City-area.

“We work with a lot of schools, a lot of organizations that work with students and they don’t even know how to ask. They’re afraid to ask, they’re embarrassed to ask a teacher, to ask somebody they look up to,” she said.

That brings in a whole new level of those impacted: students in schools, who are often left out altogether.

Lee's Summit School District nurse

Lee's Summit School District Nurse

One in four teens say they’ve missed some form of school after not having access to period products.

Leisa Zawada, a school nurse with the Lee’s Summit School District, said she was already seeing this during the current school year.

“We’ve already had 250 (nurse office) visits in the school district this year, just specifically for that reason,” Zawada said. “We have several students who come in and take multiple pads or tampons with them.”

Her district does get products provided. For some students, this is the difference between staying at school or going home.

“Our object in the end is to keep everybody at school,” she said.

Notre Dame De Sion High School students

Period Pover

As high school students, Becca Houlehan and Izzy Zschoche have seen and experienced this firsthand.

“We got our periods, and we didn’t have any products handy. So, we looked in the bathroom and there weren’t really any products we could grab, or there were like those old machines where you had to put a quarter in,” Houlehan said.

Houlehan and Zschoche are juniors at Notre Dame De Sion High School. Their realizations as freshmen at school opened their eyes to this need.

“Not having access to period products in public just kind of made me realize that some people don’t have access to period products at all,” Zschoche said.

They raised money to fill their school bathrooms with period products.

Before they knew it, they were co-founders of an organization: Equity.Period.

“We realized that this isn’t something that we just struggled with,” Houlehan said.

It’s easy to see their work at school, with product-stuffed lockers and signs outside the nurse’s office. They also make makeup bags filled with pads, tampons, wipes and more. But their work is bigger than their actions.

“People are taught that periods are kind of a gross thing that people are supposed to just be quiet and deal with, they’re not supposed to complain, they’re just supposed to suffer silently. And I think that’s a big thing that, I know a lot of girls my age are like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s not how this works’,” Houlehan said.

It’s an influence on their generation through their words.

“It’s really just breaking that stigma. Saying, ‘period’ over and over, saying, ‘tampon,’ over and over just until people stop feeling uncomfortable,” Houlehan said.