Grassroots organization helps Chicagoans in need experience their periods with dignity

By Valerie Nikolas
Medill Reports

Homeless and impoverished women in Chicago can stress less about their periods, thanks to a local organization that provides them with feminine hygiene products. The Chicago Period Project brings together local volunteers and community organizations to help homeless and in-need people experience menstruation with dignity.

The Chicago Period Project (CPP) partnered with Girls Pint Out to throw “Beer, Period,” an event that brought together 30 participants to make period kits at Lo Rez Brewing and Taproom in Pilsen on Sunday.

Period kits are filled with tampons or pads, wipes, hand sanitizer, water bottles, chocolate and underwear according to size. Once assembled, CPP partners with local schools, transitional centers and community organizations to distribute kits to those they serve.

Participants filled paper bags with wipes, hand sanitizer, water bottles, chocolate, tampons or pads, and underwear according to size for to in-need women in Chicago. (Valerie Nikolas/MEDILL)

“I think the event was really great. You get to meet some other girls that have a similar interest in helping other women,” said Liz Peterson, 28, a photographer from Wicker Park. “It was a pretty good vibe today.”

Founder Ashley Novoa started CPP after watching a Bustle video about the struggles homeless pdeople go through during their menstrual cycles. The 31-year-old stay-at-home-mom hadn’t previously thought about the issue, and she decided she wanted to help women in her native city of Chicago experience better access to hygiene products.

A recent City of Chicago report found that 5,657 Chicagoans were living on the streets in 2017, while another report found that more than 80,000 were living “doubled up” in other peoples’ homes. Beyond that, 21 percent of the Chicago population, or more than half a million people, live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which poses economic barriers to feminine hygiene.

At $10 per box for tampons, menstrual hygiene products can cost close to $150 each year. For the homeless and impoverished, this can mean having to forgo these products in favor of food or other necessities for themselves or their families.

In the 18 months since Novoa launched it, CPP has donated 200,000 menstrual supplies to people throughout Chicago. Although the 501(c)(3) and its team of five has made great strides in this short time, Novoa still sees room for improvement, particularly when it comes to education and changing the stigmas surrounding menstruation.

“We feel that this whole period poverty situation takes place because people do not talk about menstruation, unfortunately,” Novoa said. “We’re here to break down those barriers by talking about it, getting those supplies out there, and doing whatever we can to end this period poverty.”

Lo Rez Brewing and Taproom and Girls Pint Out were ideal co-sponsors for the Beer, Period event. Girls Pint Out is a group of female beer enthusiasts who want to participate in charity work. According to Lo Rez marketing manager Emily O’Keeffe, “the majority of events we do focus on grassroots fundraising, specifically for nonprofits that we want to support.” Lo Rez hosts regular charity events, particularly for groups that help women. This is the second event CPP has hosted at Lo Rez, and they are planning on expanding to monthly events in the near future.

Sunday’s Beer, Period event yielded more than 2,000 donations and 150 period kits. They will be distributed over the next few weeks at the Howard Brown Broadway Youth Center and the Chicago Women’s AIDS Project.

Photo at top: Ashley Novoa, founder and president of the Chicago Period Project, shows off one of the period kits assembled at the Beer, Period event Sunday, August 5. (Valerie Nikolas/MEDILL)