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Andrea Amelse's quest to provide period products to the Twin Cities' homeless women

Women putting children, food, and shelter before their menstrual needs will make do with socks, wads of toilet paper, and reusing disposable pads.

Women putting children, food, and shelter before their menstrual needs will make do with socks, wads of toilet paper, and reusing disposable pads. Terry Robinson

Andrea Amelse, a 22-year-old Minneapolis College of Arts and Design student, has never had to choose between buying a box of tampons and buying food for a child.

But when a financing class led her to research the difficult budgeting choices that Twin Cities homeless women face, she decided to start a fundraising campaign to deliver feminine products to shelters.

In the course of her research, Amelse found that homeless women are reluctant to ask for anything for themselves, especially if they are victims of domestic violence and raising children on the street. Products like tampons, pads, panty liners, new underwear, ibuprofen, and menstrual-cycle regulating birth control are commonly considered low priority, even though they’re essentials that that most American women never consider going without.

Donors tend to think first of the children, and homeless women carry a lot of shame around talking about their periods, says Mandie Kender, director of programs at Women’s Advocates, one of 15 shelters Amelse has contacted to be a beneficiary of her campaign.

“I have seen that women will go through clothes more often,” Kender says. “They’ll rip up shirts and things like that, or go to gas stations and public bathrooms, steal toilet paper. One thing I’ve had women do is steal diapers and pads. Diapers they have more access to. If you say you need diapers, people are all about it.”

One client would wash her pads and reuse them.

Women’s Advocates makes sure clients have access to period products when they’re staying in the shelter, but once they transition out, women will go without pads in order to pay bills, Kender says. Aftercare managers often hear from clients who have graduated into independent living that they weren’t able to budget in period products from one month to the next because they’re just too expensive.

“They think of shelter, food as basic needs,” she says. “It speaks to their womanhood, of hiding it essentially, because that isn’t a need that the community will highlight.”

Amelse crunched the costs for a lifetime supply of tampons. Say a box costs $7. If a woman goes through one box a month, 12 months a year, for an average of 37 menstruating years, she’s going to spend about $3,000. Just on tampons.

“I can only imagine being a woman on the street and not having access to those products and what that would be like,” she says. “It almost seems inhumane.”

Amelse’s campaign is located on GoFundMe. She plans to purchase and deliver the products herself, documenting the entire process.