The burden of buying tampons: Period Project volunteers work to get menstrual products to low-income individuals

  • From left, Megan Clifford, Donna Sroka and Dana Burton package menstrual products during a meeting of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, Monday, Feb. 10, at Ludlow Country Club. Sroka is the president of the Northampton Area Zonta Club. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Donated menstrual products rest on a table before being packaged for distribution during a meeting of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, Monday, Feb. 10, at Ludlow Country Club. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • From left, Tracy Viola, Jenn Patrie, Angela Rosa, Gina Wilkes and Susan Crim package women’s menstrual products during a meeting of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, Monday, Feb. 10, at Ludlow Country Club. Crim said she was representing the Amherst Survival Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jenn Patrie, left, and Angela Rosa package menstrual products during a meeting of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, Monday, Feb. 10, at Ludlow Country Club. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Completed packages of menstrual hygiene products ready for distribution rest on a table. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • From left, Elaine Sai, Tracy Viola and Jenn Patrie package menstrual hygiene products during a meeting of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley at Ludlow Country Club. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Patricia Matthieu removes menstrual hygiene products from wrappers so they can be packaged during a meeting of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley at Ludlow Country Club.

For the Gazette
Published: 2/18/2020 1:40:49 PM

It was a shock to most who learned it, according to Patricia Pupek — poverty assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) do not cover women’s menstrual products.

Pupek, who is president of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, said this discovery was one of the primary drivers of the creation of the Period Project, in which local Zonta Clubs host events to get packages of items including tampons, pads, panty liners and cleansing wipes to low-income people.

“When women have what they need to take care of their personal needs, that gives them a lot of dignity, and it helps them get through this time that is so normal but for some reason the government doesn’t seem to think that it is necessarily a problem,” Pupek said.

On Monday, Feb. 10, The Zonta Clubs of Northampton, Quaboag Valley and Springfield invited the public to join in The Period Project putting together monthly menstrual kits for individuals experiencing homelessness and providing stock supplies to local shelters and service centers.

The event was held at the Ludlow Country Club where attendees enjoyed a brief dinner before splitting into groups of seven to assemble more than 500 kits for local shelters, service centers and food banks throughout Hampshire and Hampden counties.

“It’s a fun chaos, everyone’s working as fast as they can,” said Mary Knight, the former President of the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley, who started the project five years ago.

This event brought in more than 50 volunteers, including food shelter workers and female veterans, all eager to make a difference in the lives of homeless individuals.

Another event open to the public will be held Friday at the Haydenville Congregational Church from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“It’s really great to help a lot of people who don’t have access to these supplies and even if they do it’s really expensive so being able to give to other women who need it is so important. Seeing everyone come together and work together is really fantastic,” said first-time attendee Quinn Orcutt.

Those who menstruate require over $6,000 of disposable menstrual products in their lifetimes according to a study done by the Berkshire Zonta Club after surveying more than 30 members. For those living in poverty this number is daunting when dealing with other demanding life finances like food and clothing. The Period Project helps alleviate the stress of these people.

Kimberly Lee, the Vice President of Resource Development and Branding at the Mental Health Association (MHA) in Springfield left Monday night’s event with about 100 kits to store at the service center.

“Every individual we serve at MHA is living below the poverty level which means contributions like this, for the women we serve, are huge and critically important,” she said.

The MHA is a nonprofit that serves more than 1,000 people year round with programming that addresses homelessness, substance use, acquired brain injury and intellectual disabilities.

“When you’re already living on a fixed income and it’s difficult to manage your food budget, rent and heat all at the same time, to know that at that time of the month you have kits that are available to help relieve the stress of the financial burden that a women’s menstrual cycle can often impose is huge,” said Lee.

The International Zonta Club is active in 65 countries. The Zonta Clubs of Massachusetts serve women in the state at a local level. Members (Zontians) are dedicated to empowering women through service and advocacy by attending monthly club meetings, intercity meetings, district conferences, retreats, workshops and the biannual International Conference. Worldwide, Zontians volunteer their time to support local and global services and educational programs directed to enhance the lives of all females. Dedicated Zontians envision a world where women’s rights are recognized as human rights and all women can reach their full potential.

Back in February 2015, the Zonta Club of Quaboag Valley gave out gently used purses, filled with feminine products, to women and girls in shelters across the area. Knight said the shelters gave feedback emphasizing a dire need for period products. Some girls don’t go to school because they are embarrassed and women on the street do not have places to clean up, Knight said.

“It is an absolute nightmare,” she said.

Donna Sroka, the President of the Zonta Club of Northampton said the club is locally supportive but also focuses on widespread advocacy by supporting a proposal recently passed by the Massachusetts State Legislature’s Joint Education Committee which requires middle and high schools to stock pads and tampons in female and gender-neutral restrooms.

“It seems like a simple small issue but you realize it stops girls from going to school and in different places it is used as a way of keeping girls out of school,” said Sroka.

Women in countries such as Nigeria, Malawi and India do not have access to sanitary products or face discrimination during their periods so they drop out of school, according to Sroka.

The Zonta Clubs have set up drop-off sites at gyms, salons and libraries across the Valley where donations are accepted from the public. A complete list of addresses/maps for drop-off locations throughout Hampden and Hampshire counties is available at

“In our little humble ways, this is how we do it. I think part of why we do it is to raise awareness. It’s a surprise to people that this is an issue and it’s not something that crosses everyone’s mind,” said Sroka. “It’s women helping women.”

Many local shelters do not have the space to store large quantities of period products so Zontians focus on putting small monthly packets in gallon-sized bags to be stored in the shelter’s cabinets for people’s convenience. For shelters that have more room, Zontians donate large quantities of period supplies for lasting results.

“A lot of people who donate to organizations and shelters will give clothes or food donations but they don’t think of donating tampons or underwear,” says Pupek.

Organizers of the event encourage people to keep menstruation in mind when they do their giving all year long and to consider hygiene products when putting together donations for food banks and shelters.

“We know we are making a dent and now when I mention The Period Project, people think it’s ridiculous that WIC doesn’t fund [menstrual products],” said Knight.

The Zonta Club of Northampton will be holding another Period Project event from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Friday Feb. 21, in the dining room of the Haydenville Congregational Church located at 143 Main St., Haydenville. For more information, visit the church’s website or call (413) 268-9344. All are welcome.

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