Starting this month, Dignity Matters, a Massachusetts-based organization that supplies hygiene products and personal apparel for homeless or disadvantaged women and girls, will partner with the Salvation Army’s Boston South End Corps Community Center to meet a continuing need that is seldom addressed called “Period Poverty.”
“Period poverty occurs when there is a lack of reliable access to menstrual care products,” says Meryl Glassman, director of development for Dignity Matters. “This can happen for a number of reasons, such as living in a rural area without proper resources. But more often we find that women simply can’t afford to buy these products.”
“This is a unique need because it’s a recurring need. It’s not enough that a woman receives a one–or two–month supply; she needs reliable access to products every month or it will not make a difference in her life,” says Glassman.
Through the pandemic and beyond
Dignity Matters started working with The Salvation Army in Massachusetts one year ago, when the pandemic began. The Army was supporting shelters for women who had to quarantine due to COVID-19. During the spring and summer months, Dignity Matters provided supplies and hygiene products to women who were unable to leave their shelters.
Compelled by the work they had done together, Dignity Matters reconnected with The Salvation Army at the end of 2020 and looked for new ways to collaborate. After discussing different locations where the Army was present, they saw an opportunity in the South End of Boston.
“We will be providing enough hygiene products for 100 women and teen girls from the South End,” says Glassman. “These are products that are rarely donated to places like The Salvation Army and are not covered by benefits such as SNAP.”
“There’s no government program to help women buy these products, so if it’s something they can’t purchase with SNAP or food stamps, they can’t get them, especially if they have been out of work due to the pandemic,” says Glassman.
“The female homeless population that we help are very excited for this,” says Major Kimberly Smith, corps officer at the Boston South End Corps. “One doesn’t realize what having access to these products can mean to women and their families. I love the name ‘Dignity Matters’ because that’s the heart of the issue.”
“There are women who can’t keep job appointments or make meetings to get the services they need because they lack proper access to menstrual care. It literally sends them into hiding,” says Major Smith.
A common conversation
Glassman and Major Smith agree that a big part of helping women get these products is raising awareness that this is an issue and it’s going on right now. When people realize that, it makes them more willing to do their part in helping women get what they need.
“Many think that lack of female hygiene products only happens in third world countries where the houses don’t even have running water,” says Glassman. “A big part of the work that Dignity Matters does is to say that this is a problem going on now in American cities. When you look to the needs of your own community, you will find that this is one need that is not always addressed.”
Growing up as one of three girls, Major Smith admits that she took for granted how easily these products were available to her. When she realized that this was an issue affecting women in Kenya, to where she had traveled, as well as locally where she lives today, her eyes were opened to the issue.
“Even in my own corps, girls who come in for programs or lessons sometimes need help getting access to products. I’ve had to look in my own purse or go to my staff to help them,” says Major Smith. “Asking for tampons or other hygiene products at The Salvation Army will be as commonplace as a mother asking for diapers. Everyone should be aware of women’s health needs and not have them turn into a conversation spoken in whispers or with nervous shame,” says Smith.
“I think of the story in the book of Luke where a bleeding woman, considered ‘unclean’ by her camp, approaches Jesus. When she touches the hem of His robe, her discharge stops,” says Major Smith. “Even before she spoke to Him, Jesus knew her pain and what she needed to be healed.
“That image is what comes to mind when I look at our new ministry with Dignity Matters. Offering this help to women is only the beginning, and I’m excited to see how far the Boston South End Corps can go with it.”
by Hugo Bravo