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Bishop’s School students help collect 20,000 menstrual products for San Diego students in need

Students collected more than 20,000 menstrual products to give to the San Diego Unified School District.
Over 10 days in November, students from La Jolla’s The Bishop’s School and other area schools collected more than 20,000 menstrual products to give to the San Diego Unified School District.
(Courtesy)

There are a lot of things other than education that students rely on their schools for: access to adults they can talk to, free and reduced-cost lunch, socialization and so on. But one might not think of menstrual products.

When the state’s Assembly Bill 10 went into effect in 2018, California middle and high schools that meet the 40 percent threshold for pupils in poverty were mandated to stock at least half of their restrooms with feminine hygiene products.

But with many schools closed to in-person instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic, those items aren’t as readily available.

So students from The Bishop’s School in La Jolla partnered with students from Scripps Ranch High School — with help from San Diego’s Francis Parker and Our Lady of Peace schools — to hold a drive for menstrual products to donate to the San Diego Unified School District, where campuses are closed.

Scripps Ranch High is a public school and part of San Diego Unified. Bishop’s, Francis Parker and Our Lady of Peace are private schools.

In 10 days in November, they collected more than 20,000 pads and tampons and will distribute them this month. Some California school districts have added menstrual products to the items being offered to students and families at their food distribution sites, and San Diego Unified has that option. Alternatively, schools can keep products onsite with a point person whom families can contact and arrange for pickup.

The Bishop’s School and Scripps Ranch High have clubs oriented to providing feminine hygiene products to places like homeless shelters, where there also is a need. The Bishop’s School has the Period Poverty Project and Scripps Ranch High has Covers for Lives.

“The issue of access to menstrual products has always been an issue, but because of the pandemic, it has gotten worse,” said Scripps Ranch student Madhavi Akella, 16, who started her school’s club with friend Kylie Bach, also 16.

“We spent the summer doing an essential-item drive for the homeless community, and since that one was so successful, we shifted the focus toward providing sanitary products for students. We wanted it to be as big an initiative as possible and donate as much as we can. So we worked with Bishop’s, Francis Parker and OLP.”

Scripps Ranch High School students Madhavi Akella and Kylie Bach, both 16, started the school’s Covers for Lives club.
Scripps Ranch High School students Madhavi Akella and Kylie Bach, both 16, started the school’s Covers for Lives club.
(Courtesy)

The students held drives on open campuses or in front of stores such as CVS in Bird Rock and Pharmaca in La Jolla’s Village.

“We weren’t expecting the students from private schools to be so passionate about helping. ... They brought amazing energy. They brought it home,” Madhavi said.

Yasi Henderson, 17, co-president of the Period Poverty Project along with Andrea Rix, 15, said the students were eager to help, having donated feminine hygiene products to homeless shelters.

“We see this as such an underrepresented issue in our community,” Yasi said. “In participating with this drive, we got to talk about it with other kids as well as adults. Combating period poverty comes with debunking the stigma of periods. I thought this was something that could help that.”

Unlike past drives, this one “opened up the school community more” by teaming public and private schools to help students in lower-income areas and broadening discussion about menstrual issues, Yasi said.

“We are getting more comfortable talking about things that are or were taboo, and connecting with others to talk about this openly was a really important part of this,” she said. “Before, we were talking about it just within our club’s meetings, but now we are talking about it in other parts of San Diego, which I think is important. And not just with women — we have boys and girls in our club and are getting more schools involved, and the more schools can get involved with this the better.

“It’s a harder topic to address because you have to overcome the social stigma, so it’s not something you immediately think of when you think of helping the community. It made me realize how we are making change and it’s being seen.”

The next steps are to continue to raise funds and hold drives to collect menstrual products, try to establish club branches at other schools and write to lawmakers for “menstrual justice,” such as removing the tax on pads and tampons (California has a temporary suspension on taxing menstrual products, but it expires Dec. 31, 2021).

Madhavi said the partnership “showed me how powerful youth can be. We didn’t have that many adults helping, just teenagers banding together to help the community. It was amazing to be a part of it.”

Learn more about the Period Poverty Project at theperiodpovertyproject.org and Covers for Lives through its email address, coversforlives@gmail.com (a website is being developed). ◆