Solving period poverty, one pantry at a time
Rita Audi (left) and Meghna Varambally (right), stand with their first menstrual product pantry out front of Dundurn Market in Hamilton.
Throughout the pandemic, concepts such as community fridges with free items have grown in popularity. Some included pantries with other necessities, such as menstrual supplies. This sparked an idea by two McMaster students that operates on the concept of, ‘Take what you need, donate what you can.’
Rita Audi and Meghna Varambally, two undergraduate students in the Faculty of Health Sciences, recently launched Period Pop-Ups, an accessible, donation-based pantry filled with free menstrual products that is available to the public 24/7. The two students, who met during a first-year course, came up with the idea at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after being inspired by the idea of community fridges.
“Period products are likely to become secondary to other necessities during the pandemic,” says Audi.
“This project raises awareness that all menstruators deserve to have the right to access free products.”
The initiative is supported by a Rising Youth grant the students received through Taking It Global, a platform that empowers youth to pursue community service projects. The funds helped them build a team of volunteers — more than 40 strong, to gather products, and establish their first pop-up at Dundurn Market on February 28.
“We hope for this to be the start of a network of pantries that are community driven,” says Varambally, who emphasized that anyone can donate and anyone can access the products during all hours of the day.
Audi and Varambally say that despite their initial challenges getting the project off the ground, the support from the community has been overwhelming, “The reaction has been positive and inspiring.”
They credit the grant, their team of volunteers, and Dundurn Market for making this project a success:“It’s become obvious just how much people care about the issue of free access to menstrual products.”
Other organizations hosted menstrual product drives for their cause, people have reached out to offer resources, and others just to express their admiration and praise.The pantry at Dundurn Market is located outside and can be accessed at all hours. The next location slated for a pantry in Hamilton is with the YWCA located on MacNab Street.
Eventually, they hope to expand this project into other cities. For now, anyone who would like to be involved can submit an application form to volunteer, donate products directly to the pantry, or support the initiative through monetary donations.