The Menstrual Equity Project During the COVID-19 Pandemic: How Philly high school students are working to ensure students have access to sanitary products during school closures

By Aden Gonzales

May 27, 2020, 1:20 pm

Lucy Duckworth, student volunteer, at South Philadelphia High School's meal site. 

Credit: Lucy Duckworth 

Every Thursday morning, high school students and Planned Parenthood volunteers arrive at the school district’s most visited meal sites to hand out pads and tampons, a necessity that went under the district’s radar as they attempt to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Menstrual Equity Project During the COVID-19 Pandemic is Planned Parenthood’s High School Action Groups’ first official project. 

 

The Menstrual Equity Project, led by Masterman junior Sofia Pejcic, distributed 1,100 bags filled with enough pads and tampons for roughly one cycle, from four of the district’s meal sites. This Thursday, May 28th, they plan to distribute 1,200 more from six sites: Duckery, South Philly, Northeast, Martin Luther King, Furness, and Mayfair High Schools. 

 

Distribution began on May 15th at Northeast High School. Pejcic and Sam Pfeiffer, regional field director of Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia, distributed all of their products in less than an hour-and-a-half. 

 

“The first time we only gave two-hundred [bags] away. And it was crazy how fast it went,” Pejcic said. 

 

The project is self-funded. Pejcic has been raising money to purchase the products through a GoFunMe account, with volunteers helping her to sort roughly enough products for one cycle into the brown paper bags for distribution. 

Credit: Lucy Duckworth 

However, in the upcoming weeks, they’re getting their products from Period, “a youth-run nonprofit that gives menstrual products to people who are doing things exactly like us,” Pejcic explained. 

 

Lucy Duckworth, another Masterman junior, volunteers to hand out products at South Philadelphia High School. 

 

She believes “it’s such a great time to [volunteer] because everyone is so appreciative… And it’s pretty safe because in order to enter the site, you have to be wearing a mask.” 

 

Their hard work comes with a few challenges, however.

 

“The stigma around menstruating is really evident when you’re giving out these products… Statistically, people that were probably menstruating weren’t coming up and taking these products,” says Pejcic. “We’ve had one inappropriate joke and someone returned a bag [explaining they] don’t support Planned Parenthood.” Another challenge is the language barrier between the volunteers and some parents, explained Duckworth. 

 

Volunteers accommodated almost all difficulties. Bags are now placed towards the exits of meal sites for easier pick-ups. Additionally, starting this Thursday, there will be signs in Chinese and Spanish so non-English speakers have less difficulty, according to Duckworth. 

 

Aside from those minor issues, Pecjij said the project has been “received very positively.” 

 

The Menstrual Equity Project in Philadelphia during the COVID-19 Pandemic will continue until June 11th, the last Thursday all meal sites are open for the school year. The Planned Parenthood High School Action Team will reconvene after that date to figure out how to keep distributing sanitary products to those who need them. 

 

If you’re interested in volunteering to distribute products at a meal site, or in joining Planned Parenthood’s Action Group, email endperiodpovertyphiladelphia@gmail.com. To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/menstrual-equity-during-the-covid19-pandemic