Adventures in being a volunteer advocate to fight poverty while raising children. My insights are seen through the lens of motherhood and a desire to help moms uplift each other to make a better world for our kids.
By Cynthia Changyit Levin, @ccylevin
In my city, today is the day for the Boy Scouts of America annual "Scouting for Food" collection day. So, if you're my neighbor, this is a reminder to get your blue bag put on our door handles last week, fill it with food in cans or plastic containers, and put it out on your porch for the Boy Scouts to collect and donate.
Why give? Two huge reasons:
Feed hungry people in our area. Obviously.
Empower the kids!
About this second point, I was once a Girl Scout mom and they did a similar "April Showers" collection where we gathered personal hygiene products for our area pantries. The kids feel so good about doing this service. It's one of the main reasons to be a scout...to help! They were so excited to see the bags on all the porches. Except when there were none. It was super sad when it was raining or bad weather and you hit a neighborhood where hardly anyone was participating. I'd get questions like, "Is this a mean neighborhood? Why aren't they helping?" And I'd have to say something like, "Well, people are forgetful and busy sometimes."
So...don't be mean or forgetful or too busy. Help out the scouts today and help out your fellow humans! Get those bags out there!
Here's the list of the most desired food items to help you make decisions on what to put out:
Today, I read a Newsweek article about how almost half of our veterans feel uncomfortable with the convention of people saying, "Thank you for your service." Some cited that they simply felt awkward with the platitude and didn't know what to say back and others would prefer that we civilians try to connect on a more personal level. For instance, we could ask them more about their time in the military. This is all good to think about and made me wonder about the veterans that we are failing. How do struggling veterans feel when we say thanks, but then don't act to help them out of systems that don't give them what they need? I'm not an expert on veteran affairs, but I do know that 1.5 million veterans live in households that completely rely on SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps) to keep themselves and their families fed. Additionally, the US Housing & Urban Development reported that about 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Why are so many veterans homeless? In addition to factors that affect all Americans in poverty (shortage of affordable housing and livable income), veterans are a group that disproportionately have to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. Because many have faced dangers to secure our freedoms, they are now at risk for these problems...sometimes without access to health care or family support others might have. So, how do we go beyond posting memes and saying "Thank you for your service" on this Veterans' Day? Here are some suggestions from me. I'd love to hear more ideas from you in the comment section! I especially invite comments from those who have served so that the rest of us can learn.
Ask a veteran about where and how they served. Then, listen!
Urge your members of Congress to fully support SNAP benefits and protect it from the Administration's repeated attempts to cut back
Donate to Feed Our Vets, food pantries providing regular, free food to veterans & their families
UPDATE: Only ONE day after I published this post, a Kenyan school girl committed suicide after being shamed by her teacher for having her period and nothing to prevent her from bleeding on her clothes. In 2017, Kenya passed a law requiring free sanitary towels for schoolgirls. Yet a teacher shamed her by calling her "dirty" and told her to leave the classroom to stand outside. Later that day when she went to fetch water (a backbreaking chore many African girls are expected to do daily), she took her own life. This issue is deadly serious.
Let's talk about something so normal, so commonplace that everything about it should be common knowledge...but isn't. I'm talking about menstruation. Periods. Are you still with me? I hope so. Because if you're a guy who doesn't know that much about it, that puts you in a dangerous position as a voter! Even if you're a woman who has to deal with it every month, there are probably some aspects about it for women and girls in poverty that you might not have considered. Access to menstrual hygiene products are a matter of gender equity and human dignity.
Good on ya', Cameron!
Because I'm a mom of a couple of teenage girls now, I've been thinking lately about how much unnecessary struggle could be eliminated if there weren't such a stigma around discussing periods. Adolescent girls caught unawares wouldn't have to sneak around at school asking to borrow a pad like they're begging for contraband drugs. This embarrassment adds anxiety to all sorts of life situations. Perhaps some folks remember what happened when Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland tried to make their school safer from gun violence by mandating all students use clear backpacks. Many of the girls were mortified that their feminine hygiene products would be on full display, so in a display of strong ally-ship, student Cameron Kasky went viral by putting a box of tampons in HIS backpack to help the girls not feel so singled out.
Don't be uninformed like Ryan.
Read this blog or go to a health class.
In general, we should all be making life for menstruators easier by treating it as the mundane occurrence it is and making sure everyone knows the basics of menstrual health. For approximately one week, a menstruating person (using the word "person" here to acknowledge that some trans men and non-binary people do have periods) is going to need a change of pad or tampon every couple of hours to absorb involuntary bleeding of the uterus lining through the vagina. (That sentence was put in there just to get everyone up to speed lest we have anyone like poor Ryan Willams who went viral for ignorantly tweeting that a woman should "control ur bladder") It's happening all around us all of the time! Now, let's look at three instances where U.S. policy affects women and girls already living in poverty and distress.
American Women and Girls in Poverty
"Period poverty" is what happens when someone literally cannot afford period products because of lack of income. It's all too common in the U.S. because SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits cannot be used for pads or tampons. A report published by Obstetrics and Gynecology found that of the low-income women surveyed here in St. Louis, sixty-four percent were not able to afford needed period products in the past year. Twenty percent of those women faced that problem every month. Almost every woman knows what it's like to be caught off guard and have to just use some toilet paper or kleenex or whatever is on hand to not bleed through clothes. Yet not all of us have to face that every single month. Girls at school can go to the nurse, but as the lovely young lady in this video from United for Access explains, sometimes the nurse's office is crowded and she feels very embarrassed to ask. Every month, she has to be embarrassed about her poverty and her body. That takes a serious toll on a young woman developing her identity and self-worth.
These are the kinds of things lawmakers (who, let's face it, are mostly still men) should consider when they consider the unfair, but commonplace taxing of menstrual hygiene products. Most states tax them because they are seen as "non-essential items." Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida have all outlawed the "tampon tax."
WHAT CAN WE DO? Here in St. Louis, we can donate to St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies. It's an initiative of the St Louis Area Diaper Bank. See if there is something like that you can support in your own community. Or, you can be like the science teachers in my kids school: For a while there were baskets in the restrooms near the science classrooms filled with period products they bought with their own money with a sign that said "Free. From the Women of Science." Gadzooks, I love those women. Also, if your state still has a tampon tax, you can contact your state senator and representative and ask them to repeal the tax on feminine hygiene products.
Global Girls Education The affects of period poverty are even more dire in areas of extreme poverty around the world. Thankfully, the academy award winning documentary "Period. End of Sentence." has helped bring awareness to the issue, but that film is only a small part of the solution. When communities of extreme poverty have a cultural bias against sending girls to school (because they are expected to watch younger siblings, fetch water, or get married), it's common for schools not to have appropriate washrooms or sanitary supplies. Girls find it easier to stay home than to face the shame and stigma of people knowing that they are on their period. Some NGO's have focused on these needs, knowing when an average of 8 out of every 30 days in a month have to be missed, girls are likely to drop out of school entirely. Dignity Period is a St. Louis non-profit that helps distribute pads to girls and women in areas of Ethiopia where even talking about menstruation is taboo.
WHAT CAN WE DO? Donations to Dignity Period or other organizations like it are always welcome. You can also contact your U.S. senators to ask them to sign onto the "Keeping Girls in School Act." It does many things to address barriers to education outlined here in this Borgen Project blog post and one of the things specifically mentioned is the "inadequate sanitation facilities and products 23 available at secondary schools."
WHAT CAN WE DO? The state prison situation will vary by state, but the immigration detention centers are a federal issue. Contact your U.S. representative and your senators by phone or letter to tell them that you think the situation is inhumane and that they cannot hold families in such conditions indefinitely.