TAMPA, Fla. - As students head back to school, a Tampa woman teamed up with a Hillsborough High student to tackle a seldom discussed problem in schools: Access to menstrual products.
Ellie Baggett and Hillsborough High School senior Aanya Patel are raising donated supplies and funds to ensure students in Hillsborough County schools will have access to the hygiene care they need this year, regardless of their family’s income level.
Patel said she learned the hard way just how hard it is to find period products in her school after a trip to the nurse’s office last year.
"She told me that they had run out of period products a while ago and had no way of replenishing that supply," recalled Patel.
It was just the beginning of the school year.
Florida schools aren’t required to supply menstrual products. As Patel discovered, her school’s nurse typically bought the supplies with her own money.
"I kind of got curious and started to look up statistics in the U.S. and was shocked to find that one in five girls in the U.S. miss school because of lack of access to period products," said Patel.
It’s part of a phenomenon known as "period poverty," and it’s unfortunately common in schools across Hillsborough County.
"I was visiting a friend who is a social worker at Memorial Middle School. There were no paper towels in the bathroom, and I asked why. She explained that a lot of girls will use the paper towels because they can’t afford pads," said Baggett.
Hillsborough High and Memorial Middle School are two of the 155 Title I schools in Hillsborough County. The Title I status means that a high concentration of students attending the school live at or below the poverty line.
Menstruation products can become an expense some simply can’t justify. The result can be devastating for girls and teens.
"Girls are missing out on school, extracurricular activities, their confidence levels are really low all because of something many of us take for granted," said Patel.
Last year, Patel founded the Global Girls Initiative, a Tampa-based nonprofit that works to provide free menstrual hygiene products in schools. Thanks to her efforts, all girls bathrooms in Hillsborough County’s 11 Title I schools this year will have tampon and pad dispensers installed to provide free products for students.
Baggett, the founder of Ladies Heights Happy Hour, has led donation drives for menstrual products for the last four years. She’s been able to stock 32 Hillsborough schools with supplies.
"Anyone who menstruates really has a need for these period products especially with rising rents, the cost of groceries," said Baggett. "We really want to provide these expensive materials to them because every girl, every person who menstruates, has the right to hygiene and access to those products."
This year, Baggett and Patel have teamed up and expanded their donation drive to include hygiene products all students might have trouble accessing.
The most needed items for donation include:
- Pads (most in-demand for students)
- Menstrual Cups
- Unisex Deodorants/Antiperisprent
- Individually-packed toothbrushes
- Valhalla Resale, located at 6112 N Central Ave, Tampa, FL 33604
- Mekenitas Cantina, located at 6707 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33604
- Heightened Aesthetics, located at 5606 N Nebraska Ave Suite B, Tampa, FL 33604