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Period poverty: Tampon shortage impacting Cleveland nonprofits

Donations are drastically down, prices for tampons are up
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Posted at 5:00 PM, Jun 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-16 19:33:04-04

CLEVELAND — If you don’t need them, you probably don’t think much about them.

We’re talking about feminine hygiene products and the bare shelves women all over the country and here in Cleveland are dealing with currently.

“Oh my gosh, it is so hard to get tampons, specifically,” said Kelly Palko, director of the Cleveland chapter of I Support the Girls, a national nonprofit in 59 cities that partners with social service organizations to provide women with bras, underwear, and feminine hygiene products.

The tampon shortage has been going on since about January, exacerbated in April, and now, the impacts are being felt by nonprofits like I Support the Girls, who rely on tampon donations to help women in need.

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File image of tampons.

It’s caused by a combination of COVID-19, supply chain issues, workforce shortages, and even the Russian-Ukraine war.

“Because they supply a lot of the fertilizer for cotton and cotton is used to make tampons,” Palko explained.

Palko said their donations are down roughly 60%, impacting their ability to help women dealing with domestic violence, trafficking, homelessness, recovery, and girls in foster care.

“Periods don’t stop with the pandemic,” Palko said. “You can’t say, ‘oops, sorry wait,’ so we can get some products to take care of this.”

We met Palko at Stella Maris, which treats people dealing with mental health substance abuse and addiction issues. They house 18 women and currently have about two shelves of feminine hygiene products, donated by the national chapter of I Support the Girls because inventory in Cleveland was tapped out.

Major feminine hygiene product makers have said they’re working to ramp up production and run plants 24/7 to deal with the shortage.

“I’m glad we’re having this conversation,” said Dana Marlowe, founder of I Support the Girls.

Because it’s not just the availability of the products now, it’s also the price gouging many are seeing.

According to Nielsen IQ, tampon prices are up nearly 10% since last year, pads are up 8.3%.

“I’ve even heard 30%,” Marlowe said. “Somebody just texted me they just saw a package of 36 tampons for $45. $45 dollars?! What is happening? This has to stop.”

Because that translates to privilege.

Tucked away here at the First Baptist Church in Cleveland Heights is another group that has quietly been working to help women in need.

Pride Among Daughters and Sisters, or PADS, was created nearly a decade ago by mom and daughter duo Carmen and Delesia Robinson.

They give out all kinds of feminine hygiene products, from pads and tampons to incontinence items, to underprivileged women and girls all over Cleveland, where the need may surprise you.

“One in 5 women experience period poverty,” Carmen said.

Period poverty. It means having to choose between buying the products you need once a month, every month, or putting food on the table and paying the bills.

The Robinsons say they’ve heard stories from women using rags or socks - and wanted to change that. The nonprofit’s inception was sparked by a college class Carmen was in when a homeless woman who was speaking encouraged people to donate feminine hygiene products if they could, because it was needed but not often talked about.

“I never thought about that, and I told my mom and she said, you’re right, you don't think of that. So we saw the need and we wanted to meet the need,” Carmen said.

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File image of tampons.

They set up at community events, tables full of pads and tampons, and hand out products free — and discreetly.

Right now, their supply of pads, liners, tampons, and incontinence items is fully stocked.

And they’re hoping donations will keep it that way.

Because when it comes down to it — this isn’t an issue solely for women.

It’s an issue of dignity.

“Definitely,” Carmen said. “Dignity, empowerment, just overall feeling like yourself again.”

WIC in Ohio does not cover feminine hygiene products.

If you need help or you’d like to donate to I Support the Girls, click here.

If you need help or you’d like to donate to Pride Among Daughters and Sisters (PADS), click here.