Feminine hygiene product drive began with dignity

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As Iowans extend a helping hand to those in need, feminine hygiene supplies are too often forgotten. A local group is stepping up to help.

Members of the Cedar Rapids National Organization for Women are collecting pads and tampons to help support homeless and incarcerated women and girls.

“The idea for the feminine hygiene product drive followed discussions on initiatives like the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” said Bailey Mendenhall, chapter president. “Throughout our last few meetings we had been discussing legislative solutions, as well as other organizations’ efforts to assist women abroad and at home with access to these products. We decided that we should be doing something right here, within our own community.”

The women learned that there is a near constant need for feminine hygiene products in local transitional housing and emergency shelters. Women and young girls relying on such services rarely have the resources to purchase their own supplies, and public donations often do not include these necessities.

A detail of a box of tampons - feminine hygiene
A detail of a box of tampons. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

“And, with the added awareness the Dignity Act brought to our chapter about the potential lack of sanitary products in correctional facilities, we reached out to the Juvenile Justice Center too,” Mendenhall said.

Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced last year that female inmates would be provided feminine hygiene products free of charge, the policy change benefits fewer than 10 percent of prisoners in the U.S. because most female inmates are held in state and local jails. I’ve requested the state policy from the Iowa Department of Corrections.

Donations gathered by the group will be distributed to the Foundation 2 youth shelter, the Juvenile Detention Center and a variety of transitional housing programs in Cedar Rapids.

The Cedar Rapids NOW chapter, a relative community newcomer, is one of several women-centric organizations established in the wake of the 2016 elections. The group officially celebrated its first anniversary this month, and boasts about 100 members. Other officers for this year are Paige Brown-Orr, treasurer, and Erin Owen, secretary.

“The product drive truly fits with the spirit of our chapter, as we are rooted in activism for the empowerment and equality of women and service to community,” Mendenhall added.

Members of the public who want to contribute can drop off supplies at the Cedar Rapids NOW meeting this Thursday at Mount Mercy’s Graduate Center, room 275, from 6 to 8 p.m. Monetary donations, which will be used to purchase supplies, may be mailed to P.O. Box 95, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52406-0095.

Feminine hygiene products are basic health necessities that shouldn’t be subject to sales tax. I’ll refrain from holding my breath while waiting on the Iowa Legislature to act. In the interim, however, it’s inhumane to expect marginalized women to simply go without. When women cannot change a tampon or pad regularly, it can lead to infections and, in some cases, toxic shock syndrome, which can be deadly.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Feb. 17, 2018. Photo credit: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters