Due to the pandemic, poverty worldwide is on the rise, and the United States is no exception. Statistics report that approximately 25 million Americans live in poverty. While many underprivileged Americans rely on welfare programs and food stamps to purchase groceries, there are many essential items that food stamps cannot purchase – including feminine hygiene products. Among adolescent women aged 13 to 19, data shows that the lack of access to menstrual products often results in anxiety, less time spent in the classroom, and long-term health consequences. Up to 25% of high school students have missed class due to “period poverty,” or the inability to access menstrual products, and an estimated 20% of teenagers have been unable to afford these products. Surprisingly, a recent study reports that 1 in 10 college students have experienced period poverty in their lifetime. Many women must forego spending money on tampons in order to feed their families, fill their tanks up with gas, or pay their electricity bills. With menstruation being an inescapable monthly reality for women all over the world, why isn’t more being done to help poverty-stricken women receive the products they need?
Olivia Brandon, a junior at West Forsyth High School, has made it her personal mission to donate feminine hygiene products to women who can’t access or afford them on their own. In fact, this is a cause she has been passionate about since her freshman year of high school. After starting Girl Up, a club designated for helping women in third-world countries without access to education, Olivia pitched the idea of leading a Period Product Drive at her high school. Unfortunately, her proposal was met with hesitation, putting a damper on her plans. On her second attempt at gaining traction for the project, she approached a local civic rotary club for help in spreading the word, but she found herself at a loss yet again after no one jumped at the idea. Finally, Olivia’s mother Brandy posted about Oliva’s Period Product Drive on her Facebook page, which helped raise $1,200 to be spent on menstrual products for schools, Clemmons food pantry, and children’s homes.
Why was it so difficult for Olivia to find support for her mission in helping women gain access to menstrual products? It’s likely that the topic of menstruation is still considered a bit taboo, especially among many men, which is something Olivia hopes will change sooner rather than later. Although some might be understandably uncomfortable discussing the topic of menstruation, this doesn’t make reducing period poverty any less of an urgent cause. In addition to donating products to women in need, Olivia hopes her project will aid in normalizing feminine hygiene products. After being told “No” so many times, Olivia was pleasantly surprised when monetary and menstrual product donations started to be spontaneously donated. In Olivia’s eyes, the support she received from others and their willingness to help was one of the most rewarding feelings she experienced throughout the project. A valuable life lesson to learn at such a young age, Olivia now knows that sometimes it’s necessary to take matters into your own hands and make things happen without waiting for the approval of others.
When Olivia is not busy with school or helping her community, she can be found pole vaulting on her track team, enjoying a tuna melt and a slice of cheesecake at West End Café, or browsing new arrivals at local boutiques such as Kindred Spirit. She attributes much of her passion for helping others to her older sister Maddy, who initially tried to start Girl Up during her senior year of high school. After Maddy was unable to jump through all the necessary hoops to start the club prior to graduating and attending Appalachian State University, Olivia followed in her sister’s footsteps.
Anyone interested in helping the cause can read more about Olivia and her goal in ending period poverty on Brandy Phillips Brandon’s Facebook page. Ready to donate? Checks can be written and dropped off at Sunrise United Methodist Church (note Period Poverty) at the address below. You can also send donations via Venmo at the account @Brandy-brandon-5. Email Olivia for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drop-off Location: Sunrise United Methodist Church
1111 Lewisville Clemmons Rd.
Lewisville, NC 27023
Additionally, Olivia encourages individuals to donate money or products directly to local women’s shelters, schools, and food pantries. Through her research, she also found that those interested in the cause can donate online to The Alliance for Period Supplies, a national nonprofit organization sponsored by U by Kotex.