These volunteers are on a mission to end 'period poverty' in Virginia

Sylvia's Sisters
Posted at 6:32 PM, Aug 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-07 06:14:48-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- In a storage unit in Chesterfield County, Brittany Averette stands by a group of nearly 200 boxes filled to the brim with roughly 2,000 "period kits," ready to be delivered to schools across Richmond.

"There are about 20 products in here, a mix of pads, tampons and liners," Averette said, holding a kit labeled with her nonprofits name, Sylvia's Sisters.

Brittany Averette
Brittany Averette

Averette is the executive director, leading her team of volunteers who are on a mission to end "period poverty," or lack of access to period supplies that are safe and clean.

The group started in Uganda in 2014, but realized the need was just as bad in Richmond.

"It's a widespread issue that nobody is talking about," Averette said.

Since 2020, Averette said the price of period products have increased by about 26%.

That's causing Sylvia's Sisters to have to serve more people. In 2022, the group distributed about 35,000 products between January and June. Between that same time this year, they've distributed over 200,000.

"A mother called us, her 12-year-old daughter had just started her period for the first time. This mother wasn't going to get paid until the next week. It wasn't in the budget," Averette said. "She called us crying because her daughter wouldn't be able to go to school the next day unless we helped her out."

According to the nonprofit, about 84% of students have or know of someone who has missed school because of lack of access.

"I was talking to a Communities in Schools representative, and she told us a story of an otherwise studious, all-A student, who all of a sudden started picking fights in school," Averette explained. "Because this girl had started her period, didn't have appropriate products, and would rather have received disciplinary action and be sent home, than experience the embarrassment of potentially leaking in front of her peers."

Sylvia's Sisters
Sylvia's Sisters

According to a study by George Mason University, about 60% of the same people who experience period poverty, or lack of access to products, also struggle with anxiety or depression.

There are also serious health repercussions to period poverty, Averette said.

"Menstruators stretch product usage beyond the recommended times that you're supposed to use certain products. They used substitutes that aren't meant for that purpose. We've heard of things like stuffed animal stuffing, socks, bread," she said.

Earlier this year, Virginia legislators removed a state tax from menstrual products, but localities can still tax them.

"A really heartbreaking part of this is that no federal aid program will allow you to purchase menstrual products with those funds," Averette said. "So you can't use food stamps, now SNAP, you can't use WIC benefits, to purchase these products."

Sylvia's Sisters
Sylvia's Sisters

Per Virginia state law, all schools in the commonwealth are supposed to provide some kind of period product to students, but Averette said many do not, or cannot, because of budget constraints.

For example, Sylvia's Sisters offered to place a dispenser in a school bathroom in Richmond to allow students to have free and easy access to products, but the school pushed back.

"The particular school I talked to said, 'We don't even have a vice principal, let alone a custodian.' So, they couldn't just implement what we were offering, which is really sad," she said.

Sylvia's Sisters
Sylvia's Sisters

Sylvia's Sisters is feeling the effects of inflation firsthand, now in need of more support to continue to serve others in Richmond and overseas.

On Aug. 12, the nonprofit will be hosting several drive-thru period product drives from 10 a.m. - noon at:

Starbucks at 704 England Street, Ashland
YMCA at 120 N Madison Street, Petersburg
RVA Antiques at 6102 Lakeside Avenue, Henrico
Diversity Thrift at 1407 Sherwood Avenue, Richmond

You can also donate at the Petersburg YMCA at 120 North Madison Street until Aug. 12. The Manchester YMCA at 7540 Hull Street Road will also be taking donations from Aug. 14 to Sept. 1.

Items needed include pads of all varieties, individually wrapped liners, tampons with applicators, unused leggings and underwear in both youth and adult sizes.

More information on the nonprofit can be found here.

Sylvia's Sisters
Sylvia's Sisters

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