Mother-Daughter Duo Takes on Period Poverty
The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges many at-risk communities already faced, and access to menstrual products is one challenge that has only gotten more difficult. In Philadelphia, Lynette Medley and her daughter, Nya McGlone, decided to try to make a difference. Using Medley’s nonprofit, No More Secrets: Mind, Body, Spirit, Inc., as a base they created a hub for delivering menstrual products that is believed to be one of the nation’s first. Medley and McGlone helped give out 1.9 million menstrual products last year and hope their hub – called the SPOT (Safety Programming for Optimal Transformation) leads to a national focus on period poverty. Medley spoke recently with Spotlight; the conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about No More Secrets and how this work got started
No More Secrets as a whole is a sexuality awareness organization. We basically try to center our work around issues that stigmatize and create a taboo around sexuality in the community. We really try to uplift self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-love to help people make more informed choices about their relationships and their lifestyles. We work a lot to create safe spaces for people around their gender identity, we work a lot with people who are in abusive relationships. So, really, any area that we don’t tend to talk about until something happens, we really try to be that voice and really allow people to like and love themselves a little bit more and be more conscious of the decisions that they are making.
The ending period poverty came in, but it wasn’t a choice. We’re not a period organization or a menstrual movement – we kind of fell into this space from getting so many referrals for people who were engaging in high-risk behaviors, young people who were stealing, engaging in sexual favors for people or just using unsafe medical methods to deal with their cycles. We’ve done a lot of work around consent and bodily autonomy and that was the conversation; respecting your body, setting a boundary. What was uncovered as we talked to young people is that they were asking, how can you ask me to respect my body one week out of the month when anything goes in terms of trying to find menstrual supplies wherever I can to save me and my siblings and my mother? We were looking for resources and I realized from calling around and having conversations that no resources really existed in our area, or even nationally.
I have to tell you when I first heard about this, I assumed these were women who were homeless, in dependent care; when I heard about people not having menstrual products it was always in homeless shelters or in prisons or facilities. But what clients kept telling us was they simply didn’t have the financial resources; no safety net program like WIC covers this. So, we started by creating a bank, the only feminine hygiene bank in the city of Philadelphia and started serving the tri-state area. And then we had the issue of how women were going to get to us and that’s when we started the delivery service to people who were living at home in poverty or experiencing economic difficulties. We initially were following the model of other period poverty organizations and giving out small supply bags to people, but we found that wasn’t enough. So, we’re the only organization that gives every menstruator in the home a three to five-month supply of menstrual products. Last year, we gave out about 1.9 million products. We’re really trying to tackle period poverty which isn’t the same as this idea of menstrual equity. I feel like people use that terminology but they aren’t addressing the root cause in our communities where they don’t have access, won’t have access and don’t have the resources to buy menstrual products. If I only give them enough for a couple of days, then I’m still putting them in danger of engaging in the same high-risk, maladapted behaviors as before.
So, every client gets three to five months with each delivery?
Yes. And that was intentional because it was just us and no other organization operates like we do. This was not some strategic plan we came up with, but we were guided by the voices in our community. We started out by giving one month’s worth of products to one person and then they called and said, ‘We need more.’ We took a look at that family and what they needed and that’s the way we started to build toward the foundation we were getting from the community.
How have you staffed up to handle the deliveries? Sounds like you and your daughter are doing a lot of the work.
Yes, we do – we mostly do all of it. Before COVID we had some volunteers to help us, but now we do about 50 deliveries a day.
Wow. Post-pandemic, are you hoping to have some dedicated staff if you can get the funding?
Now that we have the hub, we have people who could volunteer. Previously, we were in a therapist’s office, on the second floor, with four flights of stairs going up. It was absolutely packed with products. Pre-COVID, when we had less deliveries, we had more people willing to volunteer because we could gather together on the weekend. Then, we were doing about 80 deliveries a week. But then COVID hit and we had all these city and social justice institutions go into shutdown mode and our most vulnerable population had to go out for food, for everything. And nobody thought about menstrual products. We immediately got hit and bombarded with families who couldn’t get food, couldn’t go get COVID tests, couldn’t go get things for their kids because they were having their menstrual cycle and had no other resources. We were doing about 200 and something deliveries a week. But the good thing now, with the hub, is that people can drive up and get products and volunteers can drive up. The space is 2500 square feet so people can come in and be socially distant and they can pack bags. Not everybody has a vehicle but somebody does and they can come and get things.
I know there are some states where there are free menstrual products provided in schools. Has your work prompted any consideration of doing that in the Philadelphia area?
Hopefully, it will. The hub grew out of the necessity to amplify what we’ve been doing for six years. It grew out of the necessity to show the world that this is needed and we’ve been doing this work. There are some states who are moving for it to be free in schools but the problem that many states are having is that if the federal government doesn’t dictate it as a need, the states aren’t going to provide the finances for it to happen. Even when New York City schools started, I called them and asked how was it financed and they said, we don’t know yet. If it doesn’t start at the federal level as a mandate, I don’t think these local municipalities will go through with it.
Has the new administration raised this issue at all?
I have not seen it, and this should be a national conversation, because that will prompt people to do different things. People strategically do things to pacify conversations but they’re not creating direct impact for people who are suffering from this deficit.
Another place we see this kind of gap is with diapers
Yes, exactly. I mean, how can it not be covered? It makes no sense to me. We can have these conversations all day, and then Viagra and Rogaine are covered as a medical expense. But diapers and menstrual products aren’t? I continue to think it has a lot to do with our misogynistic and patriarchal ideology. And there continues to be this gap, this lack of connectivity between the people who are making these decisions – and who may not be able to imagine how these problems exist – and communities for whom these issues are a fact of everyday life.
The pandemic has had a leveling effect, in terms of making us all realize how close we are to having the ground underneath us shift. So, perhaps that helps in making people recognize the depth of this issue. There’s no “them,” when it comes to needing help; it’s all of us.
It’s all of us. That’s absolutely correct.