Laurel Segrist knows the very real stress and strain that people face when they cannot access essential period products — and that’s partially because, growing up, she experienced that reality herself. After working in the social services field in St. Louis for three years, Segrist became program manager of the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies in January, a role that allows her to expand access to those essential products for people across the metro area.
“I grew up in a low-income home and I know what it’s like to not have pads and tampons when you need them,” she says. “For me, there are vivid memories. And I don’t want other people to have to go through that — I want other people to succeed. I don’t want that to be the difference between a C grade and an A in school, or whether or not they show up for a job interview. There’s so many areas in your life where this tiny little thing could really impact big.”
An initiative of the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies works to raise awareness about the thousands of people in the community who need free access to period supplies, and advocates for legislative change on their behalf. Just as critical to its mission of awareness and legislative change, the Alliance also supports these individuals through the free distribution of period supplies.
Affecting 500 Million People
Period poverty is a global issue that impacts up to 500 million people and children worldwide, according to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. In the U.S., period products aren’t available for purchase through government assistance programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In the February 2019 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology (the official publication of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) a study was published by Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, an associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University, on unmet menstrual hygiene needs of people with low incomes in St. Louis. Kuhlmann and her team found that 46 percent of people surveyed couldn’t afford to purchase both food and period products in the past year. (The study also found that T-shirts, rags, toilet paper and socks were found to be common items used by people during menstruation when tampons and pads were not accessible.)
This means that organizations such as the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies is one of few resources for people in need of no-cost period products. Segrist saw this often in her work with social services, experiences that stick with her today as she works to expand access to period products with the Alliance.
“It came up a lot — I was serving a lot of moms, and they would spend so much of their energy and time and their resources getting their kids’ needs met,” Segrist says “At the end of the day, the last thing on their mind was like, ‘I can’t ask for help for one more thing, especially for myself.’ It’s something that has so much negative stigma around it and it’s just so shameful to have to ask for period supplies from a stranger. And so the moments when women got the courage to be able to ask that, it was so impactful, because the experiences were so awkward and tense. Not for me, I wanted to help, but for them, there was just so much there.”
When Julia Moss, board president of the Alliance since January, first learned of the great need for no-cost period supplies in the community, she immediately felt called to help. Moss was already deeply involved with the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, having spent more than four years as a volunteer and then a board member.
“I didn’t know that you couldn’t buy any of these things with any public assistance at all when I first began,” Moss says. “And that was such an eye opener to me, and so moving that I just jumped right in trying to help. It’s amazing how much we’ve grown over the past four years and it’s even more incredible how great the need is.”
Segrist is quick to add that the Alliance serves everyone in need of period products in the community, though, whether that need is just once or monthly.
“I honestly think a lot of people, even if you can afford period products, have had that split second moment sometime in their life where they needed those supplies and they didn’t have them,” Segrist says. “And there was a scramble and there was stress.”
Distribution During Quarantine
Since launching in February 2019, the Alliance, which is made up of a seven-person team, has amassed 98 ambassador sites around the metropolitan area for product donation drop-offs. Under normal circumstances the Alliance gives products to its partner organizations for people to pick up. When COVID-19 hit the St. Louis area, the Alliance didn’t miss a beat, immediately establishing six emergency distribution sites and one pilot partner, St. Mary’s Maternal and Fetal Health Clinic.
These distribution sites are set up as contactless drive-thrus, where individuals can simply pull into a parking lot and receive products through their car window, back seat or trunk. Four of the distribution sites are St. Louis County Library branches (Florissant Valley, Lewis & Clark, Natural Bridge and Weber Road). Other distribution sites include Affinia Healthcare in the Carr Square neighborhood, Triton Pantry on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus and the St. Mary’s pilot clinic.
The period supplies kit include four overnight pads, four regular pads, five regular tampons and five liners and are distributed on Fridays between 10 a.m. and noon. The Alliance packs 600 kits with each of those 18 items by hand every week and hopes to distribute upwards of 640,000 pads and tampons in 2020.
Segrist has recently been working at the Weber Road library branch for the Friday distributions, handing out both diapers and period supplies, and says she’s been encouraged by how successful they’ve been so far.
“At first people would be like, ‘What’s a period kit?’ And when we would ask if they needed one, some people would be like, ‘No, no, no,’” Segrist says. “It was like, ‘I don’t need that.’ But then I started to see people start coming for that. And then I think the most impactful has been the young people, parents, even some dads, will drive up their teenager and they’ll get one. And I just want that experience to be really positive. I’m sure it’s so hard as a teenager to have to be in that place and to sit with that. I just want our response to that to be so loving and caring.”
The Alliance includes a survey with each kit that individuals can choose to fill out and resubmit, which in turn helps the initiative to better serve the community. As of mid-May, 57 percent of surveyed recipients shared that due to the availability of the kits that they were now able to go to work or school, while 86 percent of those surveyed shared that the kits have allowed them to feel focused. For 30 percent of those surveyed, the kits have made it possible for them to buy food or medical support.
“I think that diapers and period supplies should not be something that someone needs to worry about — that is an essential item that people should have access to, just like toilet paper,” Moss says. “I just want to try to make St. Louis a better place and a warmer place, and do what I can to help people who need a little hand.”
Since the Alliance launched just a little over a year ago, Segrist says she’s been overwhelmed by how the community has supported the initiative, both through donations of period supplies and through volunteering to support its cause. Although volunteer opportunities currently on hold due to the pandemic, one such volunteering effort is the Alliance’s Period Cove for Pack Parties, where volunteers gather at the Diaper Bank’s warehouse to help pack period kits.
“Total strangers who are just here to pack some kits will start talking about their first period, about what their memories of that is, what their education was, and it’s just so free,” Segrist says. “It’s awesome. I think that we can start that conversation here in a safe space and then take it out in the community.”
Now, during a time of extreme isolation for so many of us, the Alliance has encouraged all people, whether volunteers, donors or just concerned citizens, to reach through its printable Love Notes. The notes are included in period supply and diaper kits and are easy to make at home: Simply print out the template, cut it into six even squares and write short, positive, gender neutral messages (free of religious content) to people in the community.
“It’s basically just a little love note, just, ‘Hey, I care about you. I recognize that this is difficult,” Segrist says. “It’s so fun. We get some really cute love notes; it’s so encouraging. It’s a great way to get kids involved or people who are a little older who maybe can’t be driving around dropping off tampons right now. It’s community building, and people have told me that that matters. Getting a love note is meaningful.”
Looking toward the future, Segrist and Moss are hopeful that the community will continue to support the Alliance’s work, as now, amid the pandemic, its services are maybe more critical than ever to the health, wellness and success of people in the St. Louis community.
“We’ve had such incredible support — it’s so encouraging,” Segrist says. “I feel like we have the tools we need to move this forward in 2021. I think the biggest thing is how many people are going to donate so that we can get enough pads and tampons to meet all the needs.”
Join the Story
- Send a love note to be included in a period kit by downloading the template here, writing your message and sending a scan of it to email@example.com.
- Eager to help to the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies? Find out how here.
- Curious to volunteer at a future Period Cove for Pack Parties when it’s safe to do so under responsible social distancing guidelines? Keep updated on future volunteer opportunities through the Alliance’s Facebook page.
- See how you can support the Free Period Project STL, which provides menstrual products directly in the bathrooms of middle and high schools in St. Louis.