Tanisha Gilbert of Hudson doesn’t want gifts or a fancy dinner for her upcoming 29th birthday. She wants to do something that will make a lot of people more comfortable during a time of the month that can be quite uncomfortable.
Gilbert has been collecting donations of tampons, pads, panty liners, pain relievers and cleansing products for the past few weeks. She has been putting them into “period packs” to give out to homeless women and disadvantaged women in eastern Maine.
“It is something that people don’t like to talk about, but affects the lives of women in a really big way,” said Gilbert, an Orrington native who works in the Northern Light Health offices in Brewer and is a mom to two young children with her husband, Chris. “Access to tampons and pads can mean the difference between being able to live with dignity or not.”
For those who do not have to deal with periods, or for those who are comfortable enough financially that buying menstrual products is not a burden, it is easy to take access to such things for granted. You go to the store, you buy what you need, and you don’t think about it.
For people with limited means, especially those who are homeless, a lack of access to those products can mean the difference between living with dignity and living with shame, Gilbert said. Women made up 40 percent of Maine’s homeless population between July 2017 and June 2018, according to statistics collected by the Maine State Housing Authority.
“Imagine having to walk around feeling shame about how you smell, or getting your clothes dirty or stained — which may be some of the only clothes you have,” she said.
After reading articles about the challenge homeless and underprivileged women face when they are unable to afford menstrual products, Gilbert decided to round up all of her own period supplies — which she hadn’t used in more than a year, after pregnancy and breastfeeding — and donate them. Then she decided a larger fundraiser would be even better.
Since starting a Facebook page for the fundraiser Nov. 15, she has collected hundreds of boxes of pads and tampons, which she is assembling into period packs. Over the past two weeks she has made more than 100 packs, which she will give on Dec. 22 — her birthday — to local domestic violence prevention organization Partners for Peace, which will distribute them to individuals and other organizations that serve women in need.
Those who want to donate to Tanisha’s Homeless Period Project can visit the Facebook event page and get in touch with Gilbert there to arrange to drop off premade period packs or boxes of other supplies. People can also donate money to the online fundraiser, also on Facebook. Each pack comprises a gallon freezer bag, filled with between 30 and 40 mixed tampons and pads, along with travel-sized wipes, hand sanitizer and pain relievers.
“My goal is each pack gets a lady through at least one period event,” Gilbert said. “When a regular box of tampons costs, what, seven, eight, nine dollars? And you have to choose between that and feeding your kids? It shouldn’t have be that way.”
While Gilbert’s 2-year-old daughter is too young to understand, her 5-year-old son will be making packs alongside her. She hopes the fundraiser will not only be a teaching moment about giving back to the community, but also about reducing the stigma around periods and women’s bodies.
“I hope this just makes it a little easier to talk about things like this,” Gilbert said. “And we can do some good alongside it.”
Tanisha’s Homeless Period Project runs through Dec. 22. Additionally, the annual Homeless Vigil is set for 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, at the Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor, to honor those from the local homeless community who died this year.