Through a club and nonprofit called Period101, students at Fairfax County’s Thomas A. Edison High School and beyond are tackling the issue of period poverty by providing menstrual hygiene products to those in need.
“We fight period poverty, which is the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products,” says founder Maya Manchester, a senior at Thomas Edison High School.
Period poverty is a big issue to tackle — nearly one in four teenagers and one in three adults reported that they struggled to afford period products, according to the 2023 State of the Period report by Thinx, a company that manufactures menstrual hygiene products.
This lack of access can cause problems with mental health and can put people at increased risk of contracting toxic shock syndrome, urinary tract infections, and other health complications when they use products for long spans of time or use alternatives like rags or toilet paper.
Manchester says she first learned about the problem of period poverty when she was in eighth grade and wanted to do something to help. First, she formed a drive-by donation drive with period products, then continued to work on the idea of donating period products in several school projects throughout her school career, including through an IB global politics class.
She, alongside co-president Laiba Ali, formed Period101 first as a club before eventually registering it as a nonprofit. The members collected pads, tampons, and other menstrual hygiene items and put together period kits to be donated to area food pantries.
Each kit contains five to six products, plus a motivational note for the recipient.
“Even though it’s not necessarily something that you can see in plain sight, like food insecurity or something like that, we’ve always found that when we’re giving kits to other organizations that they’re needing them,” Manchester says.
In the 2022–2023 school year, Period101 received over 2,000 period products and donated over 600 kits, Manchester says.
And it’s expanding throughout the area — Meridian High School in Falls Church and The Field School in Washington, DC, have now also formed chapters of Period101.
“I know that my high school definitely didn’t have anything like this,” Manchester says. “So people who were passionate about this issue and wanted to make a change were definitely excited to get involved.”
The International Baccalaureate recognized Period101 as one of its 101 Global Youth Action Fund winners last fall. Winners receive up to a $3,000 grant and mentorship and online training to help them further their projects.
Manchester plans to attend college in the fall (she’ll be studying both international relations and women and gender studies) and says that both she and other members of the club hope to establish chapters of Period101 at the colleges they attend. They’re in the process of finding new leadership for the club when the founders graduate.
“We definitely want to stay involved and keep expanding so that more people can get period products,” she says.
Feature image of Maya Manchester by Joseph Edwards Photography
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