How the Chicago Period Project is Helping People Period with Dignity
5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | November 19, 2021
This Giving Tuesday, we’re honored to partner with the Chicago Period Project, a nonprofit that empowers homeless and in-need people to experience their periods with dignity. Since 2016 (they just celebrated their 5th anniversary this November!), they’ve been fighting period poverty by providing essential menstruation supplies & resources to people with periods in the greater Chicago area.
Our friend Ashley Novoa, the Chicago Period Project’s Founder and Executive Director, is here to tell us how the Project came to be, more about the work they do, and why the period taboo needs to be dismantled *asap*.
Thinx: What inspired you to kick off the Chicago Period Project, and how did it grow into what it is today?
Ashley Novoa: Around the 2016 election, I saw a video about period poverty that followed a person throughout New York as they had their period. During the political climate at the time, there was a lot of talk of defunding Planned Parenthood. Being someone who relied on Planned Parenthood when I was younger, I just felt like it was a moment where specifically people with a uterus just needed a little bit of extra support at the moment. And when I thought about the easiest way I could do that, I decided to do a drive and collect tampons and pads.
Initially, I had just started off with a Facebook post. From there, people told me that it’s never really been something they’ve thought about before, and that stuck with me because that’s what I had felt when I watched the video, too. I’ve had my period since I was 12 years old and I had never thought about that particular issue, especially how it affects the homeless community.
That’s why I wanted to stick with this for a little bit, so I did another product drive, and another drive led to another one. Learning the severity of period poverty going on right here in our communities is what made me feel the need to actually start a nonprofit and actually become what we are today.
Coming from just a group of friends that decided to take this further — we’re a small staff of two, we don’t have nonprofit experience besides doing a volunteer gig here and there. But our passion has driven us to keep going and has driven us to learn what it takes to lead a nonprofit. So we’re really proud, we hit 750,000 products that we’ve donated in our 5 years. And for someone who had no idea what they were doing at the very beginning, that’s just a very monumental moment for me and us as an organization.
How does the Chicago Period Project carry out its work?
AN: We provide donations in two different ways: One of them is donating in bulk to our charity partners. We have a monthly list of partners that we reach out to every month to check on their inventory, and then we send them bulk donations of tampons and pads.
We also donate period kits, which we set up at health fairs, giveaways, food pantries, or other kinds of events where we can see people face to face. The kits are a bag that gives them enough products for a month’s cycle. They’ll get their choice of tampons or pads (about 16 of them), a brand new pair of underwear, and they’ll also receive some kind of cleansing supply like wipes or hand sanitizer. That’s also where we hand out menstrual cups and period underwear, as well. We’re averaging about 40-45,000 product donations each month.
What was your experience with your own period and period education while you were growing up, and how did that influence when you got started in this work?
My period was definitely impacted by a lot of generational and cultural things — being Hispanic, it’s something we don’t really talk about in our culture, it’s still very taboo. It’s still passed on as something that should be kept private.
When I got my period when I was 12, my mom had actually never really talked to me about periods. She said that I would learn in sex education class, but the Chicago public school system is not the best with sex education and all of that stuff, so I got my period and I did not know what was happening to my body — I literally thought that I was dying. It was at a school basketball game. After that was when my mom started telling me, “here’s what’s going on, here’s what you’re going to experience.”
That really stuck with me, I think a lot of period poverty is affected by a lack of resources and a lack of education around menstruation, and the fact that it’s placed on us that it’s still a taboo subject. If we talked about them and normalized periods more, I feel like that would help us with our period experience along the way.
What ways do you want your kids’ period experience to be different from yours?
AN: I have a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old. My 7-year-old will not have a period, but he has very much been raised that periods are very normal, especially with the work that I do. He knows all about tampons, he knows all about body functions, he knows the correct terminology — I want to raise him specifically to be an ally and supporter of people who have their periods.
How do you think the taboo around menstruation enables period poverty?
AN: Well the fact that we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t place periods in our mind as an everyday subject, an everyday occurrence. So that’s why a lot of people are shocked to hear about period poverty, especially here in a major city like Chicago.
Lots of people think this happens in developing countries, and it does, but it also happens here. It happens because we don’t talk about it, so we don’t think about it. And when we want to help other people, people go for the more comfortable products—which is great, they’re all needed—but that just leads to this bigger gap for period products in our shelters, and especially for our street-based communities. When I started seeing all those numbers in the research, that’s actually one of the reasons I knew I had to do more to take this issue on.
Why do you think that it’s an issue that’s so unseen and overlooked?
AN: A lot of it is similar to my experience: generational and cultural things. We raise our kids to think that periods are a women’s issue, and it’s a very gendered experience. It shouldn’t be that way, whether we have our period or we come from somebody who has their period, we’re all affected.
Period poverty and menstrual equity should just be a human issue rather than just a women’s-focused issue. And I think if we just switched that mindset a little bit, it would create a bigger focus in our heads, which will in turn close that gap for period poverty.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You can make a donation to the Chicago Period Project when you checkout with any of our three brands. In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, we are also matching donations up to $50k from 11/24 through the end of the year.
by Toni Brannagan