Period poverty is real, and Alexis Thomas, as a sophomore studying early childhood education, spends time in inner-city schools seeing the lack of menstrual products available to young girls.
While visiting local schools in Athens to spread information about the organization Thomas co-founded at Ohio University this year, ItGirl to ItGirl, she saw no pads, tampons or other period products in the bathroom for anyone to use.
“I went to the bathroom and I had just happened to start my period that day, and there was nothing for me,” Thomas said. “I was prepared as a college student, but then it got me thinking of what happens to the third or fourth grader who isn’t as prepared as I am.”
Menstrual products are needed to help students not miss school, according to a nationwide fact sheet on period poverty created by the Alliance for Period Supplies. One in four teens nationwide have missed class because they lacked access to period products.
Thomas, instead of just wondering what the experiences of girls in elementary, middle and even high school must experience when faced with limited access to menstrual products, sprung into action and partnered with Athens County School District and Athens City School District to raise period products and put them in schools.
Throughout October, Thomas and ItGirl to ItGirl’s other co-founder, Salih Lewis, ran a menstrual product drive outside of Baker University Center to combat period poverty. Thomas said although they did receive monetary donations and packs of pads and tampons, part of the product drive’s mission relied on the people who donated supplies they had laying around.
“The amount of women who (would) stop at our table and just pull two or three tampons out of their bag and donate them, that was really where the heart of the entire project was,” Thomas said. “It really showed how easy it is to kind of band the community together, but also how easy it is to get others to notice the pertinent issues that are happening around us.”
Although Thomas said they are unsure how many total products they collected, all products raised will go directly back to the schools and a plan is being made to have the supplies in bathrooms. The menstrual product drive was stage one of a large project dedicated to providing other hygiene resources, Thomas said.
Besides service projects such as the menstrual product drive, ItGirl to ItGirl is a mentorship organization on campus for women of color. Despite being a new organization, students are already getting mentorship experience. Mentors are juniors, seniors or post-graduate students and anyone can be a mentee.
“And then we have our ItGirl Youth, which are anybody that is aged six to 18 in the local school districts,” Thomas said. “We usually have meetings twice a month where we cover different topics.”
Some of these meetings have included creating affirmations that empower the women in the room and writing affirmations for one another.
Mentors and mentees were paired through their majors, career aspirations and personalities, Lewis, a senior studying management and strategic leadership, said.
Lewis was inspired to start ItGirl to ItGirl because uplifting young women and girls has always been a passion of hers.
“For me when I was younger, I feel like I didn’t even want to go to college until I found my mentor,” Lewis said. “She helped guide me to figure out what path in life I wanted to take (and) just was somebody I could look up to and just see what kind of life I envision for myself.”
Brianna Jones, a sophomore studying exercise physiology, is a mentee in ItGirl to ItGirl. Jones said her mentor has the same major as her and is involved in similar organizations.
“I’ve always wanted a mentor,” Jones said. “And especially because (I get) a mentor of color, I don’t have to go seek (one).”
ItGirl to ItGirl is still taking applications for students to become mentees but are adequately staffed with mentors. Its Instagram, Ohio.itgirls, has information about upcoming events and an application in the bio for prospective mentees or interested students can email Ohioitgirls@gmail.com.
“I feel like mentorship is very important,” Lewis said. “It’s something that everyone needs and definitely a relationship that everyone should have, especially with going to a (predominately white institution).”