The Edwardsville and SIUE chapters of I Support The Girls, an organization that collects bras and menstrual hygiene products for people in need, have seen a spike in demand for their products due to COVID-19, but cannot use their usual methods of distribution.
Stephanie Batson, instructor of applied communication studies and adviser for I Support The Girls at SIUE, said demand has increased specifically for menstrual hygiene products.
“[Demand] has definitely increased in the period materials, you know, the feminine hygiene stuff, because people are out of work, or they’re working more but they can’t be home. And in my opinion, I think women still need bras and stuff, but there’s just no way to get face-to-face with them to do that,” Batson said.
Alicia Alexander, professor of applied communication studies, co-sponsor of I Support The Girls at SIUE and affiliate director of the Edwardsville chapter, said the organization is currently unable to do their bra-fitting event — during which bras, underwear and period packs are distributed — due to social distancing regulations.
“It’s really fun because it’s our way to connect directly with the people who need our services, and … I have personally fit over 500 women at this point, like lots and lots of people. And that’s really fun, and they feel young and beautiful and come out with a new bra and that’s kind of exciting,” Alexander said. “So we have not been able to do any of the bra-gifting events since the shutdown, and so that’s kind of disheartening because that’s where you feel the individual impact, you know; we get hugs; we get tears. People are really excited to get these items. And so we haven’t been able to distribute as many bras as we have in the past. A lot of centers have no-touch policies on their items.”
Batson said there were other resources at bra-gifting events that individuals may now miss out on in addition to bra-fitting.
“Not only are the individuals who would attend missing out on this element, but there’s also mental health providers, there’s maybe a nurse, or a flu shot clinic or something, and so it’s either in a big gym or a big church or something and so since we can’t walk through or see people face-to-face or set up large events — at one point in time, in I think March or April, [Alexander] still did one, but people had to have an appointment, and even that was restrictive, because if you make the appointment and your boss schedules you to go to work, you can’t go — so it’s definitely impacted how we reach people,” Batson said.
Alexander said one solution has been pop-up pantries including menstrual hygiene in their collection drives.
“The thing that has changed is there has been a little bit more of these pop-ups, like there was actually the pop-up pantry at SIUE. And so those were happening in the spring, and I think they did one in the summer also, where they were handing out boxes of food, and so sometimes we’ve been included in some of those,” Alexander said. “We were, at one of them at SIUE, where they had period packs that they distributed along with the boxes of food. And then the Glen-Ed pantry in Edwardsville, they did that too for their back-to-school program.”
Julia Goren, a junior sociology major from High Ridge, Missouri, and secretary of I Support The Girls at SIUE, said the way menstrual hygiene products are taxed may make it harder for some to afford them each month.
“There are some people who just can’t afford those basic necessities, and while it is a basic necessity, there is a tax in a lot of states on those products, the pink tax. And it raises that price and it makes it so difficult for people who are making minimum wage or even less. It’s just really hard sometimes just getting access to those stores, based on where you live, to access those products,” Goren said.
Batson said upcoming events will be limited due to classes going remote after Thanksgiving Break, but the organization hopes to continue collecting donations in the spring.
“We’ve decided to do one more outreach event with the students, but not plan any drives on campus per se right now. But as spring comes, or even just the spring semester, we’ll have a meeting and hope to do an Amazon wishlist thing where the students share it on their social media, so the students aren’t donating but maybe their parents or their aunts, that sort of thing,” Batson said.