INDIANAPOLIS — One in four women struggled to purchase period products in the past year due to low income.
It is a problem impacting middle and high school girls across Indiana, and nurses cannot keep up with the demand of tampons and pads needed to keep girls in class.
RTV6 went to Southport High School where some students say, the menstrual products they get at school are the only access they have to these necessary hygiene items.
"It's never a girl's fault that she has her period," Destiny Mulry, a 17-year-old junior at Southport High School, said. "It happens to everybody and we sometimes don't know when it is going to happen."
Mulry and her friend, Reagan Dilk, want more of their peers to feel comfortable talking about their periods, since it is a fact of life for young women.
"Just like everything else that happens to our bodies, it is natural, we can't help it and it should be something that we should be able to talk about it," Mulry said.
Getting comfortable with "period talk" is just the first step in tackling a bigger issue: making sure all young women have access to the hygiene products they need.
"Not knowing if I don't have the products or not is even more stressful," Mulry said.
Thankfully at Southport High, the school nurse's office is there to help.
"For a lot of girls this might be the only avenue they have to get products," Bethany Mendez, a registered nurse at Southport High School, said. "For a girl on her period having a clean pad is the same as having a notebook in class, it's essential for their learning to be able to have the supplies that they need."
The Southport High nurses say there are a number of reasons a student might need to rely on them for feminine hygiene products. Money is one obstacle, there is also an issue of transportation. Sometimes their guardians are not aware of what they need. Other times, students forget to keep pads or tampons with them just in case.
The nurses say just like any other school supplies, having those items on hand is essential to learning.
"The more we eliminate the obstacles, the more class time that we can optimize," Katie Wood, a nurse at Southport Middle School, said. "So if she doesn't have the proper supplies, it may cause her to bleed through later in the day and then what could have been a five-minute visit to the clinic then turns into a 45-minute visit to clean up her uniform or wait for a parent to come with a new pair of pants, things like that."
Classroom time aside, students could also be putting their health in danger without the right products.
"I have had students come in and report to me that they have had the same tampon in since 9 o’clock last night and it is 1 in the afternoon," Wood said. "And that can pose large health risks and concerns."
Just this school year, Perry Township Schools have provided students with more than 1,200 feminine products. The district's director of nursing services, Esther Moeller, said those products come out of the same budget as all of their clinic supplies: things like bandages, thermometers, disinfectant wipes and first aid kits.
Stretching the budget to cover feminine hygiene products can be a challenge.
"We had to scrounge around for it," Wood said. "There have been times before project period that we ran out of supplies or spoke to some of the PE teachers to get extra supplies or the social worker but now we seem to have enough."
That is where Project Period steps in to help.
Since 2017, Jenna Eickman, the president and co-founder of Project Period, and her team of five women have been distributing pads, tampons, wipes and even carrying bags to schools in downtown Indianapolis, Franklin and Perry Townships and Decatur Central. They also make deliveries to homeless and youth shelters.
"It's a bigger problem than anyone could have ever imagined," Eickman said. "We were learning that girls were missing school. And these girls already have enough things to worry about."
They saw a need in their community and want to make sure girls and young women in Central Indiana are not getting priced out of products they need to live and learn.
"It is not something that is always provided by other community programs like WIC and food stamps," Eickman said. "They were getting other items donated, but not pads and tampons."
When breaking down the numbers, the cost for a box of tampons on average is about $7. For a box of pads that could be about $4. So throughout the year for period cycles that is going to be about $40 to $70 for one person. For a lot of Hoosier families, that is not a price that they cannot afford. That does not even include the cost of over the counter medication for cramps and for extra underwear.
Currently, the shelves of Project Period storage units are well stocked thanks to a partnership with Alliance Period Supplies and U by Kotex. But, this is a rare sight.
"Normally it's just one shelf," explains Eickman. "We actually are really excited to be partnered with them. It is really helpful."
That is why the women of Project Period are asking the community to step up and help them help Indianapolis students.
"It's important,'' Eickman said. "It is a necessity. We think about food, we think about clothes, we think shelter. But this is a necessity for these women and girls, and I think a lot of people don't think about it as a necessity, but it really is."
Because of Project Period's deliveries to 30 area schools, students said they do not have to worry about that time of the month. Instead, they are focusing on learning.
"I know tampons and pads are very expensive, and I know sometimes people can't afford it and sometimes I can't afford it," Mulry said. "So knowing that I can go down there and get free products is really nice."
Indiana is one of 33 states where women pay a little more for tampons and pads. Feminine hygiene products are considered "non-essential" in the Hoosier state, so sales tax applies. According to Period Equity, a law and policy organization, the state of Indiana makes almost $5-million annually in tampon tax revenue.
In 2016, Christina Hale, former Democratic State Rep. of District 87, was the first Indiana lawmaker to propose removing the sales tax from feminine products.
Both of Hale's amendments failed to go through, however.
State Rep. Carey Hamilton, who was elected to fill Hale's seat, introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 440 bill to try and change that in 2017. That amendment failed on a party-line vote.
“Here is some perspective, in Indiana, we have one of the highest pay gaps for women in the country, we also have one of the highest maternal mortality rates for women in the country,” explains Representative Hamilton. “ So this is something that we can do that is a small but important step to show that we care about women and mothers. Today if you have prescription for Propecia or Viagra, you do not pay taxes, but yet women are still paying taxes for the most basic of health care items.”
During the 2020 session, Rep. Hamilton says she will be proposing language to create this tax exemption. However, she tells RTV6 although across the country things have changed and there is more momentum towards removing these taxes, she is not confident there is enough support yet in the Indiana legislature to make this happen.
There are many ways to help and Project Period depends on the advocate community to reach the most amount of women in need. You can host a donation drive, donate products, or give monetary donations to help Project Period fill this need.