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Fighting period poverty

Cherry Hill library is home to product pantry installed by the Alice Paul Institute

Cherry Hill Teen Librarian Jasmine Riel (left) and Marketing Public Relations Executive Suzanne Fox promote menstrual health equity by offering products that are financially out of reach for some women.

The Cherry Hill library has teamed with the Girls Leadership Council by the Alice Paul Institute to provide free period products for women.

The Period Pantry opened in May to fight what is known as period poverty by offering a wide variety of menstrual products to women in need. The Girls Leadership Council is fundraising for, maintaining and sustaining the pantry, but the library provides the space.

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“I love that it’s kind of telling teens, ‘We know you’re going through this, you deserve access to these resources and materials, so it’s here for you,'” acknowledged Teen Librarian Jasmine Riel.

This pantry is the first by the council and was created to address period poverty through mutual aid, according to Olivia Errico, public program manager for the Alice Paul Institute.

“Period poverty is the idea that the supplies that people need to manage their menstrual cycles can be extremely expensive, and there’s not a lot of resources to help people for these products,” Errico explained. “The burden is harder for people who live in poverty, and this can affect their ability to attend school.”

The Girls Leadership Council is made up of about 70 girls from ninth through 12th grade in the South Jersey area who spearhead fundraising efforts and work together on different leadership projects. The group meets regularly in Mount Laurel – home of the institute – and registration is open on a yearly basis.

A 2021 study done by Thinx, a company that makes period-absorbent underwear, and the menstrual donation orgazination PERIOD found that 23% of students have struggled to buy period products, 16% have chosen to buy them over food or clothes as a result of the pandemic and three in five say they rarely or never find free period products in school or public bathrooms.

This problem was acknowledged at the state level on Aug. 23, when Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill to provide free menstrual products for students in grades six through 12. The legislation also requires periodic assessments on whether those products meet the needs of menstruating students, according to a press release.

“When students can’t access the menstrual products they need for their reproductive health, the potential stress and stigma too often distracts them from their classes or forces them to skip school entirely, leading to social and academic repercussions that no one should have to face,” Murphy said in a press release. 

“ … Promoting menstrual equity in our schools is one crucial component of our ongoing efforts to ensure the success of young people throughout our state and promote equity at every level.”

According to an article by US News, the average female has about 450 periods in a lifetime and spends an average of $20 on period products each month, for a total of about $9,000.

Although the library already provides free menstrual products in its bathrooms, the period pantry makes more products accessible to more people. Riel was happy to find the products were being put to use; within a week of restocking, some items already needed to be replenished.

“It’s been really well loved,” Riel noted. “As soon as I posted it on our social media, it got a lot of positive feedback from people all over, not just people in New Jersey and around our area. People are like, ‘This is such a cool thing,’ and ‘I didn’t know libraries do this!’ and ‘I’m just glad it got offered that way.'”

For the second second consecutive year, the library collected feminine hygiene items in August for Her Drive, an organization started in 2020 to support individuals who lacked access to those necessities. While it originated in Chicago, the drive at the library is local, and benefitted people in the Camden County area.

Besides period products, the library collected new bras and general hygiene items like shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, toothpaste, baby products and beauty products.

“We try to empower women and anybody in need of feminine-hygiene products at any level,” library Marketing Public Relations Executive Suzanne Fox pointed out. “It doesn’t matter what age, or how you identify, your own gender – everybody should have access to that.”

The library also hosts a feminist book club that will meet next on Wednesday, Sept. 27, to discuss “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” by Jill Lepore. Hours are 7 to 8:30 p.m.

To learn more about the Girls Leadership Council or the Alice Paul Institute, visit https://www.alicepaul.org/girls-leadership-council/.

To learn more about Her Drive, visit https://www.herdrive.org

To stay up to date with the library, visit www.chplnj.org.


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