Society & Culture

Working for menstrual equity, teen donates 15,000 period products

Emma Anderson shows products collected in her campaign for menstrual equity. Darcie Fisher photo

by Luca Kolba, Community News Service

Emma Anderson, a Shelburne native, was crowned Miss Vermont’s Outstanding Teen 2021 in May. While the title has put her in the national spotlight, Anderson is like every other teen: she goes to school, talks with her friends and, when asked, is there to lend them a pad or tampon.

“It was really an everyday occurrence for me to have a friend come up to me at school and ask if I had extra tampons or pads,” Anderson said.

All those requests gave Anderson her inspiration for her social impact campaign, which every Miss Outstanding Teen must pursue throughout the year she holds the title.

Anderson began having conversations with peers about menstrual product access, and it seemed like everyone had their own stories of inadequate access.

“The realization that people are living their lives every day, or every time they have a menstrual cycle, having to go to those lengths of having to find products so that they can continue with their professional relationships and their education,” Anderson said.

“As an aspiring educator, the lack of education that can potentially come from not having access to products is such a big deal to me,” she said.

A plan started forming, and Anderson set up her campaign using an Amazon wish list and direct donations through Venmo.

Her initial goal was to donate 10,000 menstrual products.

“But at this point we’ve collected and distributed over 15,500 menstrual products to places all over Vermont,” Anderson said.

So far Anderson has donated to about a dozen organizations, all with different goals. “Some of them worked with abuse survivors, some of them worked with the unhoused communities in Vermont,” said Anderson. She has also donated to several food shelves.

Emma Anderson with Christina Brown of Spectrum Youth & Family Services. Photo by Darcie FIsher.
Emma Anderson with Christina Brown of Spectrum Youth & Family Services. Photo by Darcie FIsher.

One detail that’s been important to Anderson is to ask that the organizations leave the products in their original packaging.

Anderson said sometimes products will be put into Ziploc bags to be distributed for free, but she feels this takes away “the dignity of choice.” Anderson said it also ignores the fact that most people who menstruate have preferred products that match their needs and activity levels.

“So, asking organizations to leave 125 tampons in the box that they originally came in, so someone could pick specifically those products was really important. So, it’s not just, ‘Here’s some random products that someone donated,’” she said.

Anderson’s impact has already been felt around the state.

Kevin Carter, manager at Lamoille Community Food Share, says the organization normally has to purchase menstrual products themselves and that there’s a big demand for them.

Emma Anderson, a Shelburne native, was crowned Miss Vermont’s Outstanding Teen 2021 in May. While the title has put her in the national spotlight, Anderson is like every other teen: she goes to school, talks with her friends and, when asked, is there to lend them a pad or tampon.

“It was really an everyday occurrence for me to have a friend come up to me at school and ask if I had extra tampons or pads,” Anderson said.

All those requests gave Anderson her inspiration for her social impact campaign, which every Miss Outstanding Teen must pursue throughout the year she holds the title.

Anderson began having conversations with peers about menstrual product access, and it seemed like everyone had their own stories of inadequate access.

“The realization that people are living their lives every day, or every time they have a menstrual cycle, having to go to those lengths of having to find products so that they can continue with their professional relationships and their education,” Anderson said.

“As an aspiring educator, the lack of education that can potentially come from not having access to products is such a big deal to me,” she said.

A plan started forming, and Anderson set up her campaign using an Amazon wish list and direct donations through Venmo.

Her initial goal was to donate 10,000 menstrual products.

“But at this point we’ve collected and distributed over 15,500 menstrual products to places all over Vermont,” Anderson said.

So far Anderson has donated to about a dozen organizations, all with different goals. “Some of them worked with abuse survivors, some of them worked with the unhoused communities in Vermont,” said Anderson. She has also donated to several food shelves.

One detail that’s been important to Anderson is to ask that the organizations leave the products in their original packaging.

Anderson said sometimes products will be put into Ziploc bags to be distributed for free, but she feels this takes away “the dignity of choice.” Anderson said it also ignores the fact that most people who menstruate have preferred products that match their needs and activity levels.

“So, asking organizations to leave 125 tampons in the box that they originally came in, so someone could pick specifically those products was really important. So, it’s not just, ‘Here’s some random products that someone donated,’” she said.

Anderson’s impact has already been felt around the state.

Kevin Carter, manager at Lamoille Community Food Share, says the organization normally has to purchase menstrual products themselves and that there’s a big demand for them.

“Those items are also expensive to purchase. So yeah, it’s been a big help to us and to our clients,” Carter said.

Christina Brown, basic needs program manager at Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Burlington said in an email that Anderson’s donations have made a big difference.

“Because of Emma’s hard work, the young folks experiencing homelessness who access Spectrum’s drop-in center are able to easily access these products when they need them, and furthermore have the dignity of choice,” Brown said.

Brown added that she’s thankful Anderson gathered a wide variety of products that can fit different people’s needs and preferences. “This small comfort goes a long way,” she said.

Vermont has made significant strides this year toward menstrual equity.

Starting July 1, menstrual products became tax-exempt in Vermont. In June, another bill passed that now requires Vermont schools to provide free menstrual products.

Anderson said that she was excited to see this happen, especially since every other state in the Northeast besides Maine had already passed legislation ending tax on menstrual products.

There is one thing Anderson said she’s pushing to change about the bill, which is it’s use of the term “feminine hygiene products.”

“There are people that menstruate that don’t identify as female, so using terms like feminine hygiene products kind of pushes that group of people away,” Anderson said.

“If anything, the chances of that group of people having equal access is even lower than for someone that is identifying as female or identifying as the sex they were assigned at birth,” Anderson said.

Cary Brown, executive director of the Vermont Commission on Women, helped advocate for the new legislation and has also been excited to see it finally come into fruition.

“This was a great year in Vermont for menstrual equity,” said Cary. “I have to credit really growing public awareness and public movement, largely on the part of young people in Vermont, but also nationwide.”

Cary says she’s noticed a broader movement growing around fighting against inequity in menstrual product access. She says it’s an issue that everyone who menstruates has experienced, but we often don’t expand outwards and see it as a systemic problem.

“That’s why I love these conversations that people are having now about period poverty and about menstrual equity, because it takes all these little stories that so many people have, and it pulls them together into this one big picture of people who menstruate are having a hard time getting their needs adequately met. That’s not something we should tolerate,” Cary said.

Categories: Society & Culture

4 replies »

  1. They give away condoms at school. Used to have dispensers in girls bathrooms for these necessities. Now it is news worthy. To be honest, I am disappointed. I thought it was a story about guys wanting equal days off during the month for their headaches and cramps.
    There is plenty of access to them, like condoms you have to WANT to spend your money on them.

  2. While I appreciate the concern for “period poverty”(whatever that is) this story seems a little insensitive an inappropriate given real issues of life and death and torture women are facing this week in the rest of the world – especially Afghanistan.

  3. I wonder what she accomplished to be chosen “Vermont’s Teen of The Year, 2021”? It may be some thing needed but supplying girls at school who spend more for a Starbucks, can bring their own. Then when you cannot refer to them as “feminine products” because some men who identify as female, might be uncomfortable with that reference and not purchase is questionable. I hope, to be named as “Teen of the Year” was for something else other than this single effort!

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