Claire Parker and Ryann Mescher were in line at the Aldi grocery store in Kettering when a woman in front of them had a dilemma: food or sanitary products.
Before that moment, Ryann said she never gave the issue dubbed “period poverty” a thought.
Why would she?
Her mom, April Mescher, always supplies the feminine hygiene products she needs.
Like many others, the woman in the store didn’t enjoy that luxury, Ryann said.
"We are so privileged that we didn't realize it was a problem," she said.
"(The woman) kept asking, 'where am I on my bill?'"
Ryann's mom, April Mescher, stepped in to intervene on the woman's behalf, paying the difference between what the woman had and the cost of the items she wanted to purchase.
The moment moved the girls.
“Even the cashier was about to cry,” Ryann said. “It is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
The experience last July planted the seed that has led to Femme Aid Collaborative, a nonprofit Ryann, Claire and their best friends and Oakwood High School classmates Dana Clark and Zoe Waller launched to help address period poverty.
The 16-year-old pals say women in need often find themselves without adequate supplies of tampons and/or sanitary napkins during their menstruation.
Since starting in December, Femme Aid Collaborative has partnered with PATH Homeless Outreach; Daybreak, an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth, and Linda Vista, Inc., a program that helps women and children victimized by abuse transition from homelessness.
"We are so grateful to Femme Aid Collaborative for addressing this community issue; their insight and wilingness to support our women give us one less thing to focus our resources on," Linda Vista Executive Director Carmen Gooden said in a statement.
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The foursome — inseparable since becoming buddies in 7th and 8th grades — have established a donations account with the Dayton Foundation to aid their quest to collect and distribute 100,000 feminine products to Dayton-area nonprofits by the end of the year.
Zoe Waller said the need is real.
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“Your period every month is already something that is hard,” Zoe said. “They have to go through that and don’t have what they need.”
She and her friends — cheerleaders involved in multiple other sports and extracurricular activities — have devoted hours upon hours to the cause because they want to help.
“We have a lot of people who say we are just doing this for a college application,” Zoe said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if this was not something I was passionate about.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Femme Aid will have product and fund drives this month as well as in July and October.
The list of menstrual hygiene product drop locations for March includes Speakeasy Yoga, 510 E. 3rd St. and 204 Wayne Ave.; Luna Gifts & Botanicals, 261 Wayne Ave.; and Heart Mercantile, 438 E Fifth St.
Additional product drop-off locations are being sought, as are Femme Aid ambassadors to serve as volunteers and partner organizations.
Coco's Bistro, 250 Warren St., will host Femme Aid's Change the Cycle Breakfast at 11 a.m. April 20.
Tickets are $45. Proceeds will go toward buying products, organizers said.
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A PROBLEM MOST DON’T CONSIDER
As part of International Women's Day this Friday, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is launching a campaign on her social media channels in support of Femme Aid, April Mescher said.
“Lack of access to feminine hygiene products is not an issue we often think about, so I am very impressed with the founders for identifying this need and doing their part to fill it,” Whaley said in a statement.
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The sophomores said they have learned what those facing period poverty have to do to get by.
Some use paper bags, napkins and socks as sanitary towels while others use pads and tampons beyond the recommended time, the foursome said.
Misuse of tampons can lead to toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening illness.
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"Femme Aid Collaborative will help us to provide feminine supplies that aren't always available to our female clients," Andrea McGriff, program services director of Miami Valley Housing Opportunities, said in a statement. "PATH Homeless Outreach specialists work to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable citizens in our community. Our clients need a variety of services to impact their lives positively. We provide basic care items every day and we never have enough female personal hygiene products."
According to Always, a feminine hygiene company, nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.
Femme Aid’s Dana Clark says the cycle can end.
“A period is not a choice. It is something that every women has to deal with,” she said. “It is not just a female problem. It is a community problem. We should all be working to help these women.”