When I was 12, I got my period one morning right before I left for school. I told my mom, she handed me a pad, and then we never really talked about it again. I was confused, scared and had a million questions but I understood this topic was not to be openly discussed to avoid making the men in my family uncomfortable. Pilsen native and president of the nonprofit Chicago Period Project Ashley Novoa has a similar story and says her introduction to her period was also scary and deemed an off-limits topic by her mother.
Yet, while we weren’t able to openly discuss our periods, Novoa and I have always had access to the necessary sanitary products. This is not a reality for everyone, however—people who struggle to afford traditional menstrual supplies instead use socks, rags, or newspapers, or they bleed onto their clothes.
This is why Novoa founded the Chicago Period Project in 2016. Like many women after the presidential election, she felt prompted to take action and serve as an ally for marginalized people, specifically people, including the trans and nonbinary community, who menstruate and can’t afford the supplies they need. The nonprofit seeks to end “period poverty” by providing basic hygiene necessities like tampons and pads and safe spaces to access these products.
“To this day, we’ve donated about 250,000 menstrual supplies and we’ve done that in a couple of different ways,” says Novoa. “We donate pads and tampons in bulk to people in organizations and shelters throughout the city. We also pack period kits that consist of enough supplies for a month’s cycle on a more one-on-one basis on the street or at soup kitchens.” The period kits, which include hand sanitizer, underwear, tampons, pads, a water bottle, wipes, and chocolate, are created by volunteers throughout the city.
Aside from creating and distributing period kits to shelters like La Casa Norte or UI Health Pilsen Food Pantry, Novoa says Chicago Period Project seeks to end the taboo around menstruation by having open discussions about periods with different organizations and people. “It’s very unfortunate there’s still a taboo and stigma behind menstruation,” she says. “This stigma leads into other things like people being insecure about their bodies and people being unfamiliar with their bodies. Also, the fact that people don’t want to talk about periods means they’re unwilling to address the reality of period poverty.”
Chicago Period Project hosts events throughout the year where they discuss menstrual hygiene and people’s varying menstrual experiences. By talking about periods more openly, they hope to empower those who menstruate to experience their period with dignity and encourage more people to be allies for the menstruating community, which will hopefully bring an end to period poverty in Chicago. v