One teen is rallying people to help the homeless through an issue that’s often neglected.
Homeless people across the United States, as well as in a few other nations, are getting free menstrual products thanks to Camions of Care, an organization founded by Nadya Okamoto, an 18-year-old Harvard University student.
Over the past two years, the organization has donated more than 250,000 tampons and 100,000 pads to women in need. Okamoto’s nonprofit has attracted so much attention for its work that she’s been named a 2016 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth honoree and is currently in the running to be the national honoree.
Through its work, Camions of Care aims to not only provide an often expensive necessity to homeless women, but also challenge the stigma surrounding menstruation.
“We strive to spread the message that periods are something that should be celebrated,” Okamoto, who’s experienced homelessness herself, told The Huffington Post, “because it tells a woman that her body is working and she is grown, not something that should at all give a reason for her to feel less qualified and less capable.”
For homeless people, these basic hygiene necessities prove particularly difficult to come by.
People often don’t donate menstrual products to shelters, leaving tampons and pads to be one of the greatest needs the facilities have. What’s more, because of the stigma attached to periods, some organizations that help the homeless feel uncomfortable requesting menstrual products.
“Part of the reason we don’t have things like that is because we may not ask explicitly,” Margie Wakeham, executive director of nonprofit Families Forward, which that helps families in need, told The Los Angeles Times. “People from my generation don’t talk about tampons, sanitary pads and hygiene products. There’s a shyness to do that.”
Donors may also feel awkward about donating the menstrual items ― even if organizations express a need for them, the LA Times pointed out.
Homeless women who don’t have access to menstrual products sometimes must use toilet paper, cloth and brown paper bags, Okamoto told HuffPost. Without proper hygiene practices, women can face infections including bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infection.
Camions of Care currently has 47 high school and university chapters across the U.S. and abroad, with more than 2,000 volunteers to combat this issue.
The group first buys the hygiene products or gets them from sponsorships or community drives. Then the organization’s chapters host parties where volunteers put together care packages consisting of nine tampons, five panty liners and four maxi pads each. Afterward, chapter volunteers or representatives from the organization’s headquarters send these packages to the group’s nonprofit partners, which include homeless shelters, transitional housing services and battered women’s shelters.
The program seems to have made a difference in peoples’ lives. In fact, those on the receiving end of the packages have expressed their gratitude for the support.
“The response has been tremendous,” Okamoto told HuffPost. “Our partners will tell us that the women are ‘thankful’ or tell us they don’t have words to describe what this means for them.”
She added: “We also hear from our partners and the women themselves, that they are touched and feel cared for when they realize that youth are fighting for something that they often feel so challenged with, but not confident enough to reach out for help.”