‘Period poverty’: Free menstrual products now available in Duval County Title I schools

Florida Times-Union | By Beth Reese Cravey | August 16, 2023

The list of school supplies necessary for student success include more than notebooks, pencils and calculators.

One in four girls have reported missing school due to lack of access to menstrual health products, according to a recent study. But this school year, tampons and pads will be available — for free — in all of Duval County’s Title I schools, which have high numbers of students from low-income families.

A total of 96 dispensers have been installed in girls’ bathrooms at 17 middle schools and 13 high schools, according to Paul Soares, assistant superintendent of operations.

Who’s providing the supplies?

The dispensers are available through a partnership between Duval County Public Schools and Renewing Dignity, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit that works to eliminate “period poverty” through distribution, education and advocacy.

“Duval County is leading this important work in Florida,” said Jan Healy, founder and president of Renewing Dignity. “Students in Duval County Title I secondary schools now have access to these basic health necessities, helping them to stay in school and focus on learning and growing rather than worrying about how they are going to get through the day or week.”

The new effort stems from a successful 2022 pilot project that provided free period supplies for students in two Title I schools — Ribault Middle and Ribault High. The district and Renewing Dignity expanded with the help of a Safe and Healthy Schools grant from the federally funded Title IV, Part A–Student Support and Academic Enrichment program that provides “just-in-time options for students to encourage attendance and hygiene,” according to the district.

“Our district leadership has been in full support of this effort and we are grateful for the grant assistance we have received to help address this need in our schools and our community,” Soares said. “Team Duval takes a ‘whole child’ educational philosophy, which aligns with ensuring that students in our most under-resourced communities have access to basic health resources while in school.”

Are similar efforts underway in other area school districts?

Dispensers of free tamponsand pads have been installed in all 30 Title 1 middle and high schools in Duval County, in partnership with Renewing Dignity, a Jacksonville-based nonprofit. Provided by Duval County Public Schools

The nonprofit is collaborating with a St. Johns County student organization called Gen WOW Club to distribute products to middle and high schools. Discussions are ongoing with other area school districts.

“It is our hope that all school districts provide period supplies in their budgets just as they include toilet paper and soap,” Healy said.

Also, Renewing Dignity offers an after-school workshop for middle and high school girls, educating them on menstrual health and the different types of “period management options.”

What is Renewing Dignity?

Healy founded Renewing Dignity in 2019 after learning of the lack of feminine hygiene products for low-income women and girls at a meeting of the Jacksonville-based Women’s Giving Alliance.

Feminine hygiene products are rarely donated to nonprofits that serve low-income families. As a result, many many disadvantaged women and girls miss work or school because they don’t have tampons or pads, Healy learned at the meeting.

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The alliance responded by holding a “Dignity Drive” at a subsequent meeting, donating hundreds of boxes of tampons, pads and incontinence products. After further researching the issue, Healy founded Renewing Dignity.

The nonprofit and its 175 distribution partners in 12 counties have since distributed 3.7 million products and helped 180,000 girls.

What’s the feedback from girls and women?

“Young girls are often embarrassed — confidence is especially low during teenage years — but all are appreciative of the period products and the period management education information they receive from us,” Healy said.

The nonprofit’s school work, she said, helps keep students in class, encourages participation in sports and other activities, supports good mental and physical health and equity and “allows girls to menstruate with dignity.”

And it’s work supplying food pantries and other organizations with tampons and pads help struggling low-income women.

One woman told Healy that, because of her tight budget, she had “gone without” numerous times while in college and raising two daughters and suffered infections as a result.

“The humiliation something like that causes keeps our mouths closed,” the woman said. “There were times I would sink into depression because my thought process was along the lines of ‘If I can’t even afford these items, I’m not much of a person. I’m not doing a good job. I’m not worthy.'”

Such feedback keeps Healy going.

“When I learned about this unique, ‘not-talked-about’ struggle that so many women and girls live with regularly, I was deeply touched by the indignity suffered,” she said. “This was a problem that could be solved and I believed I could help.”


To donate or get more information, go to renewingdignity.org.

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