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From local schools to hurricane shelters in Texas, women and girls are finding support and reclaiming dignity through the work of an Upstate nonprofit organization.

The Homeless Period Project was founded right here in Greenville and puts period packs (pads, tampons and wipes) in the hands of those who can’t afford or can’t access menstrual hygiene products. The result can change lives.

Sharron Phillips, co-founder of the organization, said it started with realizing the need.

“My sister-in-law, Stephanie Arnold, read an article in Huffington Post about homeless women in the U.K., about the struggles they have because they don’t have these products,” she said. “We quickly found out that it’s the same here. We felt so compelled that we should do something about it.”

Phillips said they started by doing research and then they held an event to gather supplies.

“One of the ladies said, ‘If you’ll come speak, I’ll have one at my house and invite my friends,’” Phillips said. “We had not thought beyond that first event.”

The project took off and word spread. From the initial goal of helping homeless women and girls, the reach has expanded. A school nurse called and asked if girls had to be homeless to receive supplies. Her students were in need.

“We immediately took them some packs,” Phillips said.

Here at home and around the world, girls miss school when they can’t afford menstrual hygiene items. The missed days add up and can have a direct impact on their education and even their ability to graduate. During the 2016–17 school year, the Homeless Period Project helped local schools on an as-needed basis. Phillips soon learned the need is great. The project served about 1,000 students each month in 41 schools.

“It wasn’t anything official,” she said. “We were just helping.”

For the current school year, Greenville County Schools has made it official, with the Homeless Period Project supplying menstrual hygiene items – for students, packs included pads and wipes – for girls in need in all middle and high schools in Greenville County. The organization also supplies elementary schools as needed.

The result is simple, but makes an impact. Girls who had to miss school each month can now attend class.

“When a school starts running low, we call our volunteers to make deliveries,” Phillips said. “It’s quite a challenge, but when you believe in something and know the need …”

The stories keep Phillips going.

“One girl told me she was homeless on and off from she was 9 until 18,” Phillips said. “When she started her period, very rarely did she have these products. It was horrifying some of the ways she had to make do so she could go to school.”

The organization now has two divisions of the same project. Period packs meet the needs of girls in school and women and girls who are homeless or low income. Other resources to meet the need are very limited.

“Not only are these products taxed as luxury items, if you are on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), you can’t buy these items (with SNAP funds),” Phillips said. “It’s very sad. People are struggling.”

Phillips is working toward the goal of having menstrual hygiene items excluded from tax and added to the list of items that can be purchased with SNAP funds.

The Homeless Period Project now has chapters in 13 states. It supplied 60,000 period packs in its first two years, all without grant money or corporate sponsors. Women – and sometimes men and children – hold gatherings in their homes or host “period parties” at local venues. Volunteers bring supplies and pack them for distribution.

Beyond the physical products, Phillips said the project is making the subject open for discussion.

“Because it can be so taboo, a girl may not say why she isn’t going to school,” she said. “We’re trying to tell our girls to go in the classroom and focus and learn.”

Discussion can be the catalyst for change. The project has certainly radically altered Phillips’ path.

“It shouldn’t be horrifying to go in a store and buy a box of tampons,” Phillips said. “I was that girl that kept the products pushed down in my purse. I always say God’s got a sense of humor. If you had told me at 15 or 16 that God’s plan was for me to be the face of pads and tampons in Greenville County, I would have said, ‘Take it back!Tack it back!’”

Volunteers are needed to help in the Homeless Period Project’s mission to distribute dignity to women and girls in need. Learn more at http://homelessperiodproject.org.

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