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'I shouldn't be penalized because I'm having a period': Period poverty continues in St. Louis

A recent study showed when asked, two-thirds of St. Louis high schoolers missed class because they didn't have consistent access to supplies.

SAINT LOUIS, Mo. — Period insecurity has become a public health issue. A recent, national study looked at St. Louis high schoolers and found nearly two-thirds of those asked had missed class because they didn't have access to products. 

Data also shows that 46% of low-income women have had to choose between food and period supplies, many of whom have had to miss work as well. 

To top it off, those products are also taxed as luxury items in Missouri. People who menstruate say it's hardly a luxury but a human right. 

There is a major effort by community groups and activists to change conversations, enact legislation, and make sure no one feels like they can't participate in daily life because they're menstruating.

Although six libraries within the St. Louis County Public Library district provide free period supplies, the service seems widely unknown.

"I don't know that people realize that we have flow kits available," said Kristen Sorth, director and CEO of the St. Louis County Library. "There's lots of data out there about girls that missed school because they don't have regular access to period supplies, and so we want to make sure that girls can go to school and be in school."

The library district gets its supplies from the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank and the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies. When someone needs supplies, they can ask for a flow kit at circulation desks without registration or taking down a name. Kits vary from mixed products to even a first-period kit.

"People don't think about that as a basic need item," said Muriel Smith, executive director of the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank and the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies. "But it's how you live your life. That's what you need to live your life."

The alliance partners with several nonprofit organizations, healthcare providers, and social service agencies throughout the St. Louis region to help families have the resources they need. You can even text or call a number to get supplies in a pinch. No public benefit programs allow for the purchase of period supplies, so this service can be a lifeline for those without consistent access to supplies.

Period products have been the center of equity campaigns as many are still taxed as luxury items. In the state of Missouri, they're taxed at more than 4 percent, while other states call them medical supplies or don't tax them altogether.

"I always say, anyone who's ever used tampons knows it's no luxury," said Joanne Samuel Goldblum, Founder and CEO of the Alliance for Period Supplies. Goldblum also points out that a higher sales tax is regressive, as it hits harder for people who earn less money since a bigger portion of their income goes to period supplies. Goldblum's organization often relies on help from U by Kotex as a founding sponsor which has donated more than 53.1 million period products to help women in need.  

Not to mention, there has been a nationwide tampon shortage. During the height of the supply chain issue, there were often empty shelves at stores and major markups up to $20 a box from places like Amazon.

"You know, this is not okay," said Goldblum. "I shouldn't be penalized because I'm having a period."

She, like so many other people who menstruate, says it is time to normalize bodies, normalize bodily functions, and support those who need help with basic needs like period products. 

"It's educating people on the fact that a lot of people need them, and that it's important that they are able to have access, on a regular basis, just like everybody else," said Smith. 

Volunteers are needed in the alliance's warehouse, and it also asks for donations.

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