Donations to the homeless often include food, clothing or soap, but for many women on Skid Row, feminine hygiene products are a sometimes-forgotten need.
"When you don’t have access, you ain’t got nothing,"said Shirley, a homeless woman from Los Angeles. "You have to use the next thing available. It might be some clothes, it could be a towel – anything."
It’s a harsh reality Chelsea VonChaz began thinking about when she noticed a homeless woman in Hollywood wearing clothes stained from her period.
"It's like, duh, you know women have their periods and if they're on the street or they’re homeless or have low income, they definitely would need period products for their monthly cycle," she said.
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VonChaz decided to do something about the issue, launching the charity #HappyPeriod with her mother in 2015. The nonprofit passes out kits of pads and tampons to homeless women on Skid Row, including Shirley.
"The big plan is pretty much to eliminate the stigma [surrounding periods] and to make it so that nobody has to struggle to get period products," VonChaz said.
Once the last Saturday of every month, she partners with #HashtagLunchbag, a charity that bills itself as "a party with a purpose." Hundreds of volunteers gather at the nonprofit’s event, making lunches, love notes and – with the help of #HappyPeriod – feminine hygiene kits. The kits are later distributed to shelters.
VonChaz says shelters aren’t required to budget for period products. Many don’t realize that there’s an often-unmet need for these products until they volunteer with #HappyPeriod.
"I'm so happy that someone finally thought about this and we're focusing on that for these women," said Marqui Lyons, a volunteer who attended the #HashtagLunchbag event.
During the event, #HappyPeriod put up a sign that read, "What would you do if you were homeless and got your period?" It’s a message volunteers say should be contemplated.
"It’s a powerful thing, as a woman. Men don’t go through this, so for women, it’s important to shed light on that," said volunteer Melody Candil. "Every month we’re going through these things. It’s already painful enough, and then you don’t have access to even have anything to make you feel comfortable."
VonChaz hopes to connect other women with her movement so they can organize their own #HappyPeriod giveaways.
"Honestly, it's going to take the people who have periods to actually stop to think about it and do something," she said.
Since the charity was founded, chapters have been formed across the country. In Los Angeles, VonChaz continues her work, preparing a simple package of products for the women of Skid Row.
"It's really about restoring dignity, because everybody deserves that," she said.