A volunteer-based nonprofit is hoping to make period products available for free in school bathrooms throughout the Kenai Peninsula by the end of the year.
Peninsula Period Network, launched in August by Soldotna resident Chera Wackler and more than a dozen volunteers, wants to place distribution boxes full of pads and tampons in school bathrooms for students to use for free without having to ask an adult for them.
The group, which has already raised more than $5,000 through small grants and individual donations, has a broad goal of ending “period poverty” in the region, Wackler said.
The American Medical Women’s Association defines period poverty as “the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and educations, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.”
Nationwide, 18 states plus Washington, D.C., have passed legislation requiring schools to provide access to free menstruation products in schools, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies based in New Haven, Connecticut.
Alaska does not currently have any legislation related to menstruation products in schools.
Larger school districts in the Alaska Railbelt say they try to make those products available for free for students who might need them. While no formal policies exist, school nurses in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough typically stock those supplies for students to use at no cost, officials at each district said this week.
That’s currently the situation for Kenai Peninsula schools, which have tampons and pads available in the nurses’ or principals’ offices.
Wackler said that for many students, especially younger ones, having to ask an adult for help can feel scary or embarrassing and lead to unnecessary disruptions.
“Not having basic hygiene needs met can inhibit a child’s education,” she said. “They can miss class, they can miss school time, they can miss a lot of different types of sports activities.”
Wackler, who grew up in Nikiski and graduated from Kenai Central High School, said she wasn’t aware of any other efforts on the same scale as the one being mounted by Peninsula Period Network.
Across the United States, lower-income women regularly struggle to afford menstruation products.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology reported that nearly two-thirds of lower-income women participating in the study were unable to afford needed menstrual hygiene supplies during the previous year. Approximately one-fifth of participants experienced this monthly.
Another pre-pandemic national study noted that four in five teens reported either having missed class time or knowing a classmate who missed class time because they didn’t have access to period products.
In Soldotna, the Peninsula Period Network is currently finalizing agreements with dozens of local schools, according to Wackler. She estimated stocking all those schools annually will cost between $20,000 and $30,000.
The goal is to have the products available in all 41 borough schools by the end of the year, in Peninsula communities on and off the road system from Seward to Kenai to Homer.
Right now, Wackler’s garage is filled with boxes of donated products.
Community support for the project has been overwhelming, with teachers, parents, students and community members all offering help, she said. At least one local pharmacist has agreed to provide menstruation products at a reduced cost.
Wackler said the best way to support the organization is to donate through its website.
Eventually, beyond improving access to products, Wackler said the Peninsula Period Network hopes to tackle stigma associated with periods by normalizing the way it’s talked about from a young age. She thinks this generation has already come a long way on this front.
“We used to like hide them up our sleeves when we were going to the bathroom,” she said. “Now (teens) are more likely to toss them to each other in the hallway.”
Reporter Annie Berman is a full-time reporter for the ADN based covering health care. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.
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