In the wake of COVID-19, these students looked bey...

In the wake of COVID-19, these students looked beyond campus to help vulnerable Detroiters access essential period products

Pads and tampons are essential needs, PERIOD.

PERIOD. @WSU President and period packs

L: PERIOD. @WSU President Alexia Alaya at the WSU Student Org Fair. R: Menstruation supply kits. | Courtesy PERIOD. @WSU

If girls, women and others with periods know one thing, it’s that the pandemic hasn’t paused their monthly flow. Nor has it reduced their need for supplies to deal with it.

In fact, COVID-19 is exacerbating already tight financial constraints — from job cuts and unemployment payment delays — and people are finding it even harder to afford the pads, tampons and other products necessary for living in dignity and comfort while they’re menstruating. And there’s an enduring stigma preventing candid conversations about menstruation and women’s reproductive health that spans across cultures and generations — making it even harder for some to get access to needed period products.

Cue PERIOD. @Wayne State University. Currently led by President and WSU student Alexia Ayala, it is the first Michigan chapter of PERIOD., the national nonprofit founded by Nadya Okamoto in 2014. Former WSU student Gabrielle Gordon, who co-founded the local chapter, serves as advisor. Doing their work through three areas of focus — advocacy, education and service — the WSU group helps students, menstruators who are homeless and Detroiters with financial insecurities and health issues meet their most pressing period needs. 

PERIOD. @WSU launched in 2016 with the support of an initial $3,000 grant to conduct menstrual equity work and research; they’ve since served thousands. After initially discovering that period products were only available in one campus store location at a significant markup, the group successfully lobbied WSU’s administration to make free period products available across all bathrooms in the four most-used campus buildings: Old Main, State Hall, the Student Center and the Undergraduate Library. 

L: PERIOD. @WSU Director of Education Jessica Rademacher at the Michigan National Period Day Rally in Ann Arbor, October 2019. R: Co-founders (l to r) Gabrielle Gordon, Emily Tujaka and Aishwariya Mudunuri volunteering at The W Food Pantry to help sort period product donations. | Courtesy PERIOD. @WSU

Beyond campus, PERIOD. @WSU partners with Detroit Public Schools Community District to offer educational sessions about menstrual health and hygiene and to deliver products to students in need. Pre-pandemic workshops and product distributions have been facilitated at Spain, Golightly and Vernor Elementary; in May, the group held a virtual Menstrual Health Day in collaboration with all PERIOD. chapters across the state. They’re also circulating a petition to lobby state lawmakers to stop taxing pads and tampons as luxury goods.

Having exhausted their initial seed grant a while ago, PERIOD. @WSU continues to send much-needed products to menstruators thanks to a steady flow of local donations and support from their national office. In May alone, PERIOD. delivered 300 period packages to the homes of individual WSU students. The group also supplied 400 fully assembled period packages in addition to thousands more individual condoms, pads and tampons to be distributed as needed through their six newest nonprofit partners, including Alternatives For Girls, Auntie Na’s Village, Blessing Box, Brilliant Detroit, Detroit National Action Network and Freedom House Detroit. Each period package serves a menstruator for a full seven-day menstrual flow.

Building new connections during COVID-19

PERIOD. @WSU’s expansion to serve community groups was a direct response to the pandemic, with help from two fourth-year WSU medical students. Dana Benyas and Dominic Sandler took on the project when they found themselves unable to do their normal work in hospitals. Both are applying to obstetrics and gynecology residencies this upcoming fall and so are constantly thinking about reproductive health and safe reproductive health practices.

“Dana told me that there’s lots of people working on food services right now for people in need and even social services, but no one’s really looking at reproductive health needs, including safe sex practices and period products for women,” Sandler told Detour. 

Wayne State University School of Medicine students and PERIOD. @WSU community partnership organizers Dominic Sandler and Dana Benyas. | Courtesy photos

Sandler did some research on human reproductive behaviors in the midst of large-scale catastrophes, identifying condoms as a vital need. In addition to decreasing access to medical and health services generally, researchers have found that in some cases like natural disasters, large-scale traumas lead to an increase in sexual abuse, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.

So Sandler and Benyas decided to get to work connecting PERIOD. @WSU with organizations they’d learned about through their work as medical students. This meant organizing new partnerships with local nonprofits, in addition to contacting condom company Trojan, reproductive health nonprofit Planned Parenthood and pregnancy test company Get Stix. They organized mass shipments of condoms to be distributed along with period products and secured a deal to make mail-order pregnancy tests more accessible to a larger population at a substantial discount.

This story is from the inaugural issue of The Blend, a digital magazine for Detroit women to find inspiration, advice and resources, while connecting with an inclusive community of women dedicated to supporting each other.

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Rethinking what’s essential

Auntie Na’s Village is a community organization in Detroit’s Arden Park neighborhood that offers nutrition, health and youth tutoring services to enrich residents’ lives as whole human beings. In-house services have been paused due to the pandemic, but their service work has not slowed.

“We’ve converted a lot of our existing infrastructure into a complete crisis management/food delivery system, for not only residents in our zip code of 48204 in Detroit’s Arden Park, but across Detroit’s east and west sides, and a few locations in Ferndale,” said Lakshman Mulpuri, an advisor and organizer with Auntie Na’s.

As food box distribution swiftly rose from a few dozen boxes in the first week to 400 weekly boxes now, requests for cleaning products, general household supplies and hygiene products have also grown.

The partnership with PERIOD. has enabled Mulpuri and other staff at Auntie Na’s Village to provide residents with period products and condoms alongside their food boxes on request. He says it’s made a big difference in mitigating folks’ stress in deciding whether to spend limited funds on period products, safe sex supplies, food or other essentials.

Food box prep and distribution at Auntie Na’s Village. | Courtesy Auntie Na’s Village

Chanel Taylor, meal program director at Detroit National Action Network, is seeing a similar trend. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis in March, Detroit NAN’s food distribution program went into overdrive making deliveries to seniors and other greater-risk populations. 

As the pandemic progressed, the food program’s service population evolved, and so Taylor is building a partnership with PERIOD. @WSU to address non-food essential needs for the hundreds of households NAN serves. 

Operating as a drive-thru service to accommodate more people, NAN’s food program now also reaches children and adults who have an immediate need for period products. 

“Food is the most central need we’re seeing right now, but women’s hygiene products are just as vital,” Taylor said.

Get with PERIOD.

PERIOD. @WSU relies on donations to keep going, as do the community partners they reach. Follow them on Instagram for the latest updates or send an email to period.wsu@gmail.com to partner in their work or request supplies.

Courtney Wise Randolph

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter with a heart for people and their stories. A WDET Storymakers Fellow, she also writes for nonprofits and individuals through her small business Keen Composition

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter with a heart for people and their stories. A WDET Storymakers Fellow, she also writes for nonprofits and individuals through her small business Keen Composition.