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A Florida activist is installing 'period pantries' for menstrual products

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Many people can't afford period products, and that can make menstruation especially difficult to cope with. But one woman in Tampa is helping to make those products more accessible in her community. Stephanie Colombini from member station WUSF has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF HINGE CREAKING)

STEPHANIE COLOMBINI, BYLINE: On a busy Tampa street, Bree Wallace opens the door of a pink wooden box. It's perched on top of a wooden pillar, kind of like a large mailbox or one of those little free libraries where people share books. But inside this box are pads and tampons and all sorts of items people can take if they need help managing their periods.

BREE WALLACE: So these are heating patches that people can use when they have cramps or such. We have wipes that people can use.

COLOMBINI: Wallace founded the Tampa Period Pantry last summer. She was inspired by a friend spearheading a similar effort in Jacksonville. Thanks to word of mouth and social media attention, Wallace has since opened nine more locations around the area. Her day job is at the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund. Wallace helps people who need assistance paying for abortion appointments or dealing with the state's six-week abortion ban. Through that work, Wallace learned from clients that many have a tough time during their periods.

WALLACE: A lot of the people that I work with are people who are low income, who are unhoused. So sharing this resource with them helps them at least a little bit, you know? If they have a few dollars to their name, they can use it somewhere else and use free products from here.

COLOMBINI: Research shows 1 in 4 teens and 1 in 3 adults in America struggle to afford menstrual hygiene products. This can cause people to miss school or work among other challenges. It's an issue known as period poverty. In this year's budget, Florida lawmakers voted to include nearly 6.5 million dollar to provide free tampons and pads in Florida schools. But Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed it. Wallace says that makes grassroots efforts like hers all the more important.

WALLACE: I mean, it's a human right. We should already have it for free, but that's obviously not happening right now. So things like this are definitely needed.

COLOMBINI: She says she can't do it without help. Members of the public donate most of the period products, either through an online registry or in person. And businesses work with Wallace to set up new locations. Some are outside on city streets, like the first pantry she set up outside a salon and boutique called the Disco Dolls Studio. Other pantries are in bathrooms. The owner of the Disco Dolls Studio, Leigh Anne Balzekas, calls it an honor to be involved.

LEIGH ANNE BALZEKAS: We have to support each other, and especially as women.

COLOMBINI: Wallace says she's working on opening a few more period pantries later this year.

For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Colombini in Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.