//Geoff Davis stands outside one of two Period Kits storage facilities on Jan. 26. Photo by Madison Lauterbach | firstname.lastname@example.org
Before Geoff Davis established Period Kits, he didn’t know the difference between a pad and a tampon.
In fact, when the 50-year-old male brought the idea to an all-female group of local nonprofit directors, he was met with wide eyes.
The journey to Period Kits began about three years ago. Davis woke up at 3 a.m. with a deep gut feeling: Period poverty is an issue of dignity. A few days prior he had coffee with a woman named Ashley Bierne. She shared a story of a time in her life when she had to choose between food and tampons.
“It resonated with me,” Davis said. “No human being should have to figure that out. You shouldn’t have to go hungry because you can’t afford overpriced or overtaxed products.”
Local activists and organizations like Period Kits are tackling menstrual inequity at social, educational and legislative levels with the same goal in mind: to reduce the stigma around periods and support menstruators in having access to hygiene products.
The organization was informally born in 2018, when Bierne made 300 kits for her birthday with the help of some friends. When Bierne left the project, Davis stepped in, and officially registered Period Kits as a nonprofit in February 2019.
The six-person board of directors and legion of volunteers assemble one and three-month kits filled with a variety of donated menstrual products. To date, the group has distributed a total of 3,150 three-month kits and other period products to individuals across the Front Range. And the numbers are astounding. They’ve delivered 310,000 tampons, 65,000 pads and liners each, 19,000 pairs of underwear and 3,150 packs of feminine wipes.
“Every time I tell someone about the nonprofit and what we do, people say, ‘Oh that’s so great you’re sending them to other countries.’ I just say, ‘No, I’m sending these to Brighton.’ There are people in our own backyard struggling with access,” Davis said.
The Alliance for Period Supplies reports one in seven females between 12 and 44 live below the federal poverty line in Colorado. Individuals who consistently menstruate from puberty to menopause, on average, have their period for 2,535 days of their life. When period products are unattainable, menstruators are forced to use t-shirts or newspapers, and often miss work or school. Not only do such issues strip individuals of their dignity, but they pose health risks due to infection and Toxic Shock Syndrome. Davis cited one case of a girl at a Denver area school who was changing her tampon once every other day.
While access is a major issue for most young menstruators, the stigma surrounding the products can also pose a hurdle to obtaining them. Davis said the language people use to talk about menstruation is crucial, and the bodily function should be revered rather than kept secret.
“I’ve done kit-building events with 14, 15-year-old boys who won’t touch the product. That’s how bad the stigma is,” Davis said. “It’s cardboard and cotton and a string and it’s in a wrapper, and you won’t touch it? Are you afraid you’re going to catch menstruation? That’s the level of stigma that’s out there.”
Jess Whetsel, former head of Free The Period Colorado, which recently dissolved in response to PERIOD’s national leadership accusations of misconduct, hosted the state’s first-ever National Period Day in 2019. Whetsel’s mission was to educate Denver’s youth on the prevalence of period poverty at the local, national and global level. She said hurdles arise in menstrual advocacy when empathy is stripped.
“Folks don’t understand the breadth of period poverty,” Whetsel said. “People don’t think it’s their job to do anything about it.”
She adds that many politicians are afraid to discuss the issue.
Denver City Council unanimously voted in 2019 to remove sales tax from menstrual products, a move that had major support from Davis. However, all other counties in Colorado have a use tax along with a sales tax on period products. Whetsel says she wants to see the tax on period products eliminated state-wide.
One of Whetsel’s projects was working with students at Arvada West High School who were met with resistance while advocating for menstrual equity in their school district. Period Kits and Free The Period Colorado, along with other local organizations, activists and legislators, banded together to support their mission.
Nationally, one in four teens reports missing class due to lack of access to period supplies. While Colorado doesn’t keep track of this statistic, activists say the state mirrors this data, especially in low-income districts.
The issue extends into Denver and Jefferson County public schools but often goes unspoken, according to Julia Trujillo, a former student of Arvada West and member of the Intersectional Feminist Club. Trujillo devoted her senior year to implementing tampon and pad machines in her school’s bathrooms.
“We were discussing our goals for the club and we realized we had these shared experiences in having these really embarrassing, undignified stories where we had struggled to get period products within our own school,” she said. “We realized this was an issue within our own community.”
Trujillo and other members of the club also worked with State Rep. Brianna Titone on HB 20-1131—a grant program within the state Department of Public Health and Environment that would allow schools to provide menstrual products free of charge.
The bill was introduced in January 2020. Davis, Whetsel, Trujillo and Titone, in addition to many others, spent months in and out of legislative meetings. Once COVID-19 broke out, attention shifted and budgets were cut. The bill met its demise later that summer.
“It makes people uncomfortable talking about it,” Titone said. “I asked a Republican woman legislator to co-sponsor the bill and she said she would have a hard time talking about tampons on the House floor.”
According to Titone, some people accused the bill of wasting tax-payer money. Titone said the grant would’ve been able to reach almost all schools, providing a year’s worth of period supplies.
“Biological functions should not get in the way of school,” Titone said. “There are people that don’t have the money to provide themselves with these products that most people who have the means would never think about.”
While activists at Arvada West were disappointed in the demise of the bill, they did have success in implementing period product dispensers in the school through a crowdfunding campaign. However, Trujillo mentioned club members have to install the dispensers themselves without assistance from janitorial staff.
“We don’t expect girls to walk around with toilet paper,” Trujillo said. “The ideal scenario would be a state mandate to ensure all students have access to period products. I want more people to understand the validity of this issue, and not only period poverty, but the stigma.”
Titone adds that even when bills like these don’t go through, they get the conversation started. That conversation has transformed into action by the Denver Public School district. As of this year, the district installed dispensers in all high schools, middle schools and K-8 schools. The menstrual products are free of charge.
“We can break down the stigma by just talking about it,” she said. “We can get communities to say ‘this is a problem, we can band together to support our schools so students feel comfortable.’”
If you’re interested in donating supplies to Period Kits, click here for more information.