Period Pantry aims to advance menstrual equity movement

C/O Rita Audi

Two McMaster undergraduate students are improving accessibility to menstrual products in the Hamilton community through their new public period pantry project.

Rita Audi and Meghna Varambally, both in their second year of the health sciences program, recognized how hard it was for individuals of lower socioeconomic status to access menstrual products, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The provincial lockdown closed many non-profit organizations, cutting off access of community members to free supplies. 

To tackle this, Audi and Varambally started a period pantry with free supplies that will be outside and always accessible. The pantry will be community-based, with members donating and taking what they need. 

One-third of Canadian menstruators under the age of 25 struggle to buy enough menstrual products every month.

One-third of Canadian menstruators under the age of 25 struggle to buy enough menstrual products every month.

This lack of access to sanitary hygiene products, also known as period poverty, prevents many menstruators from participating in work, school and social activities. 

“We applied the same principles of a community fridge, which is “take what you need, donate what you can.” Anyone can take what they need from it, and we hope to also raise awareness about period poverty in Hamilton,” explained Varambally.

The first pantry launched on Saturday, Feb. 27 at Dundurn Market, located at 346 Dundurn St. S, in Hamilton. This pantry project is part of a greater organization started by Audi and Varambally called Period Pop-Ups.

The organization aims to advance the menstrual equity movement in Hamilton through community engagement. They recently assembled a volunteer team to support the maintenance and logistics of the period pantry, including the expansion and creation of more pantries within the community.

“Our main goal for this is to raise awareness about [the lack of accessible] period products and spread the message that these products need to be free because they are not a privilege. They are a right to every menstruator around the world,” emphasized Audi. 

“Our main goal for this is to raise awareness about [the lack of accessible] period products and spread the message that these products need to be free because they are not a privilege. They are a right to every menstruator around the world,” emphasized Audi. 

According to Audi and Varambally, menstrual equity is a topic that is often overlooked and requires more effort both on the community and systems-based level.

“Menstrual products have been a high necessity for a while . . . we do want to emphasize that these are basic necessities for so many people out there and that’s why we want to encourage people in the community to donate to the pantry as well,” said Varambally.

As they planned and implemented the pantry, Audi and Varambally explained the many logistics that had to be taken into consideration, such as funding and securing a strategically popular location. 

The team expressed their gratitude to TakingITGlobal’s RisingYouth for a $750 grant to supply the pantry. They are also grateful for support from Dundurn Market in being their first pantry’s location. 

The Period Pop-Ups team plans to expand the number of pantries to the rest of the Hamilton community, along with cities such as Scarborough, Toronto and Mississauga. They hope to partner up with local community organizations to expand the number of people they can reach.

“We have gotten a great response from the community [so far]. People have reached out to volunteer with us or to donate with us already, so have really good hopes about this in the future,” said Audi.

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