Donating feminine hygiene supplies through Food Bank (photo via @FoodBank4NYC)
The nearly one million women and girls living below the federal poverty level in New York City are often forced to make impossible sacrifices when it comes to their basic needs. Limited budgets mean having to choose between purchasing essentials, like feminine care and household products, and paying for other necessities, like rent and food.
The cost of these feminine care products adds up. On average, women between the ages of 12 and 54 buy approximately 250 feminine care products every year, including pads, tampons, and panty liners. That presents a significant financial burden to families already struggling to balance the competing costs of everyday living expenses and turns basic essentials into luxury products.
Part of the challenge is that low-income families have little support to help defray the cost of non-food essentials, and there is no reliable source of regular donations of sanitary napkins or tampons available to those in need. This means the majority of families struggling to put food on the table have no choice but to pay out of pocket for these necessary items.
This issue is more than a matter of health and hygiene—it’s a matter of dignity. Girls faced with the prospect of attending school without the products they need will opt to skip class, harming their chances at success to avoid embarrassment. Similarly, women in the workplace often encounter these same dilemmas. Our city has made significant recent strides by enacting legislation to ensure women and girls in public schools, shelters, and jails have access to the supplies they need. And the budget just enacted in Albany extends access to public schools throughout the state. But there’s more work to be done.
That’s why Food Bank For New York City launched Woman to Woman, a campaign to make New York the first city to offer feminine care products at all of its food pantries. We are committed to establishing a regular supply of products and creating first-time space on pantry shelves to meet the basic needs of women and girls living in poverty because these New Yorkers face burdens that food alone cannot ease.
This year, we are asking for donations of products and funds to help the women of our city. Right now, thanks to generous support from the City Council, feminine care products are available at 25 of Food Bank’s campus pantries in public schools across the five boroughs but the need is far greater. Almost three in four (73 percent) food pantries and soup kitchens say they need more household and hygiene items to better serve their communities.
This is an opportunity for New Yorkers to take the lead in caring for their most vulnerable neighbors. Needed items include tampons, pads and panty liners, as well as toothpaste, toothbrushes, baby wipes, adult diapers, shampoo, conditioner, and deodorant.
People can continue to donate these products at locations throughout the city. They can also coordinate a product drive at their workplace or rally their friends by hosting an online fundraiser. Additionally, volunteers can sign up to repack donated products at Food Bank’s Bronx warehouse so that they’re ready for distribution to our network of 1,000 charities across the city.
Last, we are calling on New Yorkers to raise their awareness and help remove the stigma and embarrassment around menstrual health. Addressing this problem means having a public conversation about the terrible choices women and girls living in poverty confront every day. No one should be ashamed to need a tampon and the more people talk about it, the better.
By having a greater understanding of the unique challenges women face, especially in an expensive city like New York, we can help overcome them. Ensuring all New Yorkers have full access to the range of essential items they need will help everyone achieve greater dignity, independence, and success.