Although Intermitten is first and foremost a tech conference, we love highlighting work from folks who inspire us all throughout the community. These people make a difference in the lives of others, often with the help of technology. And we think that everyone—including those of us who work in tech—can learn from those folks, share their stories, and take lessons from them to apply in our own work. Lysne (rhymes with “Disney”) Tait and her business partner, Amy Stephenson, are two of those inspirational people. Lysne and Amy run a non-profit, Helping Women Period, which provides menstrual product to homeless and low-income people in the Mid-Michigan area. We chatted with Lysne recently so that she could share more about their work. Here’s what she had to say.
What’s the story behind Helping Women Period?
Everyone who reads this knows someone who has had a period. And everyone who has had a period has been surprised by its arrival at least once in their life. If you’re a woman, you know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you sit in the public toilet and consider your options.
Do you have something in your purse? Is there a friend nearby? A stranger? Is there a machine in this restroom? Does it work? Do you have 35 cents?
And barring any of those solutions, we are resourceful. We can MacGyver something to get us home to our extra supplies, to our shower, to clean clothes. For us, it is a temporary inconvenience that we can easily solve.
However, for the 215,000 homeless people in the United States who menstruate, this is not a temporary inconvenience. It is a recurring drain on their resources, energy, and dignity. Moreover, these essential products are not covered by SNAP, WIC, or any other federal or state program.
There is a need.
When Amy (my business partner) and I first learned about the lack of menstrual products for homeless and low income people, we said “What? Why didn’t we ever think about this?”
So, in the middle of February 2015 we decided to do something about it. We thought, “Let’s host a breakfast at the Soup Spoon, a local eatery. We’ll invite 30 of our friends, pay for breakfast, and get them to donate. Hopefully we’ll raise $500, buy a bunch of cases of product on Amazon, send them to Haven House (a local shelter), and we’ll be done.”
Ha! Little did we know.
On Sunday, February 23, 2015, we posted the event on Facebook. On Tuesday the 25th, we had to change the venue because the Soup Spoon could only hold 30 people; we had 70 who wanted to come. On Thursday, the 27th of February, we filed non-profit paperwork so that we could accept the donations that were coming in from around the country.
We had our breakfast with over 100 attendees. We raised about $6,000, and visions of tampons and pads started taking over our lives.
Someone suggested we try a local company to purchase items, rather than Amazon, so we talked with Kirk from MichCo, a janitorial supply company in Lansing. He said if we ordered 100 cases, he would get us the best deal possible.
100 cases?! We thought, “What are we going to do with 100 cases?!”
We started chatting with other non-profit groups in our area: The Women’s Center of Greater Lansing, Haven House, Cristo Rey, and we developed our Charity Partner program. We took orders, we made deliveries, we accepted donations, and suddenly that first year was over. We had delivered over 300 cases of products to 18 charity partners.
But the need was still there.
The next year, 2016, we got organized: We made 4 distributions throughout the year, although we delivered whenever needed. We increased the charity partners to 45 and delivered 600 cases, enough to cover 1,760 periods. In 2017, we added 40 more charity partners and provided enough product to cover 3,000 periods.
But the need was still there.
In the first quarter of 2018, we added 7 new charity partners to bring our total to 91 and given out 1/3 of the total number of products we gave out last year. We are NOT in all of the schools yet, and there are a number of programs that we haven’t contacted.
And the need is still there.
These items are taxed. And they are expensive. Yes, there are reusable alternatives, but many are not feasible for our homeless population. They need consistent, clean bathrooms and laundry.
We continue doing what we do, because it needs to be done. While we would love to be out of a job, the need is still there.
So, Amy and I talk to anyone who will listen about our work, and the responses go a little like this:
“You do what?”
“I didn’t realize that was an issue. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“What can I do?”
This is what you can do: You can ask us to come speak to your groups. You can talk about menstruation, the expense, the tax, the lack of supplies for our vulnerable populations, the laws that govern those programs like WIC.
You can become an advocate.
You can run a product drive. You can donate your time. We always need volunteers.
You can give. For $35, you can cover one person’s menstrual needs for an entire year.
The need is still there.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to do something similar to your work with Helping Women Period?
Talk talk talk! Let people know what you do and why, and they will support you.
What inspired you to get involved in Intermitten?
It is just such an amazing project. I love seeing all the different ideas and the energy of the participants. How could I not want to be involved?