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Kits filled with personal hygiene products to be distributed to homeless, low-income women (w/video)

  • Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley members Gale Lemanis, of Chicopee, from left, Sandy Goss, of Holyoke, Dianne Radebaugh, of Belchertown, Maria Sypek, of Belchertown, and Kate Sypek, of Belchertown, fill bags with feminine hygiene products during a meeting of The Period Project, which supplies homeless women with menstrual kits, Feb. 13 at Ludlow Country Club. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Debbie Wood of Belchertown works at the restocking table for the assembly-line work session where the kits were made at the Ludlow Country Club. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Products for the menstruation kits were collected in a drive centered at area businesses over the past month. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley members Kathy Picard, from left, Maureen Ingram and Morgan Ingram, all of Ludlow, fill bags with feminine hygiene products during a meeting of The Period Project, which supplies homeless women with menstrual kits, Feb. 13 at Ludlow Country Club. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley members Kate Sypek of Belchertown, left, Sue Williams of Belchertown, Gail Lemanis of Chicopee and Sandy Goss of Holyoke, fill bags with feminine hygiene products to be distributed to homeless and low-income women. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zonta Club member Debbie Wood of Belchertown cuts labels for the bags that will be handed out by agencies that assist women. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Tampons that will be distributed to homeless women rest on a table during a meeting of The Period Project at Ludlow Country Club, Feb. 13. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Monday, February 20, 2017

Tables in the banquet hall at the Ludlow Country Club are piled high with tampons and pads, soap and hand sanitizers as teams of volunteers work together on a recent Monday night to put together menstruation kits for homeless and low-income women.

The volunteers, brought together by the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, are stationed around five round tables working assembly-line style to fill plastic bags with the products. The goal is to fill 500 bags that will be distributed to homeless shelters and survival centers in the Valley. Each bag will provide products needed to cover one monthly period.

“We are not talking about mascara, we are talking about a really critical need for women,” says Jane Banks, program director of homeless services at Springfield’s Center for Human Development (CHD), who is at the session.

Public assistance programs, like food stamps, don’t cover tampons and pads,

The kit assembly is the culmination of the “Period Project,” a drive and fundraiser spearheaded by the Zonta Club, a women’s empowerment service organization based in Ludlow that has been taking place over the last month at businesses throughout Hampshire and Hampden counties.

“This is a gift for us to be able to pass on to families,” says Banks.

Banks will be leaving the session with kits her organization will distribute to the hundreds of shelter units for homeless families that it oversees throughout western Massachusetts.

Covering basics

A box of 36 tampons, like some of the ones sitting on the tables, would cost around $7, which, depending on the person, could last for two menstrual cycles.

For homeless or low income women other essentials take priority.

“There are all sorts of things that make it hard to be able to afford the basics, this is a basic need, this is not extra,” says Banks. “It is something that every women needs, every teenage girl needs and we need to be able to help provide access to that.”

According to the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., more than 16.9 million women live in poverty in the United States. In addition to not being able to pay for tampons and pads, these women often lack sanitary and safe spaces where they can take care of their personal hygiene.

“It’s hard, when you are in a shelter, you are homeless, you don’t have a whole lot of resources,” Banks says.

Sometimes women are forced to use rags which can be uncomfortable and humiliating. Teens might stop going to school because they don’t have the right protection, she says.

“If you can’t keep your self clean during your period that can be devastating for someone’s emotional well being,” said James Wang, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

“People often have food drives for the homeless with toiletries, this is one of the neglected products.”

Filling the need

As the bags go around the table at the country club, passing from one woman to another, hand sanitizers or soaps are dropped in, rolled up pairs of underwear and panty liners are added to the tampons and pads.

The women make occasional trips to the back of the room, where there is a long table with a mountain of supplies to restock.

“We felt that not only would this be a service project that we would be able to do for the women in the area, but also as an advocacy project, raising awareness of the issue,” says club president Mary Knight of Belchertown, who is working alongside the other volunteers.

Over the years, Zonta members also have taken on other service projects like, mentoring women at the Soldier On shelter for veterans at the Veterans Administration medical center in Leeds and setting up a visitation room for children of women who are incarcerated at Stony Brook jail in Ludlow.

Knight says that this drive was inspired by simply asking the staff at homeless shelters and other aid organizations where they could use some extra help.

“When we went to them and said, What is it that you need? How can we help? one of the things that they came back with was ‘We never get donations of feminine products,’ ” says Knight.

By the end of the night, the middle of the tables are filled with kits ready to go. By adding these kits to the assistance they provide, CHD and other organizations like them will be able to focus on other areas, like chipping in for a rent payment or buying some groceries.

“We need to be as fluid and flexible as possible,” says Banks. “That is pretty huge, that is going to serve a lot of girls and women.”

For more information about the Period Project, call 219-8260 or visit www.zontaqv.org/period.

Lisa Spearcan be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.