28 May 2024

Period products or food? Struggling families forced to choose

10:01 pm on 28 May 2024

Many families are being forced to choose between buying period products or putting food on the table as the cost-of-living bites into their weekly shop, charities say.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is on 28 May, highlighting the millions of people worldwide who do not have access to or can not afford period products.

Charities have told Checkpoint that period products were one of the first items to drop off the shopping list.

Now, the link between food poverty and period poverty has become so clear, organisations were working together to try and provide both.

Bursting boxes of Kiwi fruit and enormous bags of carrots filled the food network's North Island distribution centre in the Auckland suburb of Penrose.

7000 tonnes of donated or surplus food that could not be sold and would usually end up in landfill was delivered to the Auckland or Christchurch centre every year.

But it was not just food people needed.

The Period Place chief executive Danika Revell said there was a constant and growing demand for sanitary products like tampons and pads.

"I am confident that if you're experiencing food poverty, food hardship that you're experiencing period poverty because ... you can't eat a tampon."

The demand was so significant, pads, tampons and reusable period undies and menstrual cups were now being packed into food parcels.

About 3 million period products all up will be donated by The Period Place charity to the New Zealand Food Network, which worked with charities who donated food.

The Period Place chief executive Danika Revell.

The Period Place chief executive Danika Revell. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Relationships Manager Sophie Percy said tampons and pads were often the first thing to go off a shopping list.

"The items are just costly and can't be afforded and so people just have to choose not to buy them."

Revell said providing reusable products to people in the regions meant they did not have to worry about running out.

But it was important to include options that suited everyone.

"It depends if you have access to a washing machine at home, it depends how you plan on cleaning your menstrual cup, there are a lot of cultures [where] it's whakamā to be boiling your menstrual cup in the kitchen on the stove where you're cooking food."

Revell said the government funded period products in schools programme did not address the deprivation many of the students faced once they walked out of the school gates.

"For kids who can't afford period products, whose family can't afford period products, they have to use whatever resources they have at home to put in their underwear, socks, rags, toilet paper to get to school, to access those free period products."

The Salvation Army was one of the charities now receiving the period products to go with their food donations.

Salvation Army food security manager Nicci Eaglestone.

Salvation Army food security manager Nicci Eaglestone. Photo: RNZ/Marika Khabazi

The products go from their warehouse in Mount Wellington and were distributed across 17 centres in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Food Security Manager Nicci Eaglestone said the new donations coming in were life changing for their clients.

"One is a family of a Mum with six girls and it's only her she's working two jobs to take care of the family, because her husband passed away.

"Three weeks of the month all of them are on their cycle, our centre was able to pass on some of the reusable period products and the mum cried because she says that's just one little bit that can help and put food on the table."

The Period Place operates without any government funding, but if they had enough funding, they could be giving out 70 million period products instead of three million.

Revell said Menstrual Hygiene Day was a chance for everyone to look at what they could be doing to help people who have periods, access sanitary products they needed.

Getting funding for free sanitary products to go into bathrooms and businesses would be a good start, she said.

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