AP NEWS
Related topics

Lansing nonprofit providing aid to homeless women will stay

February 24, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Women who have ever asked, “Do you have a tampon?” in a hushed tone will understand.

There’s a sisterhood that sends even strangers to the rescue, digging into the bottom of their purses.

Four years ago, a pair of Lansing-area friends tapped that universal bond to launch the nonprofit Helping Women Period. It aims to give low-income or homeless women, girls and some transgender men the products they need.

It was supposed to be a one-time fundraiser for a single shelter, but the nonprofit took on a life of its own. It now stocks 129 sites such as schools, shelters and food pantries in four counties and has passed the 1 million mark of items given away.

“We can all imagine not having a product that we need and that sinking feeling. It’s so relatable. We’ve had a huge response,” Lysne Tait, co-executive director of the nonprofit, said to the Lansing State Journal.

Tait is a former English teacher from DeWitt who is also known as one of the founders of the popular Not Your Mother’s Networking Group on Facebook, which has 17,000 followers. She calls herself a professional volunteer.

She happened to read a Huffington Post article on homeless women who couldn’t afford feminine hygiene products, which can easily run $8 to $10 a month. She tried to imagine what that would be like month after month and posted the article on her Facebook page.

Meanwhile, an acquaintance of hers in Okemos, Amy Stephenson, read and posted the same article. It was about 1 a.m. Jan. 14, 2015.

Stephenson said she could understand the feeling of panic and loss of dignity the women faced.

She’s a marketing director for the East Lansing law firm of Willingham & Cote, and she knew Tait as they both had had children at an Okemos Montessori school.

The two started discussing the subject. They decided they should do something.

Their idea was to hold a breakfast with friends and ask for donations to stock products at Haven House, a family shelter in East Lansing

“We thought we’d have the breakfast and go back to our lives,” Stephenson said and laughed.

“Oh my word, it is not what we expected,” Tait agreed.

They were overwhelmed with the response, with 70 people attending their first breakfast. The fifth annual breakfast coming up is expected to draw more than 125 donors. The pair field calls, a few each week, from people around the globe who want to start similar charities of their own.

Stephenson will soon receive The Greater Lansing Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award.

There’s a taboo on the subject that they’ve tried to tackle.

“People don’t like to talk about periods,” Tait said.

Stephenson said that’s changing. She notes that younger people are more open to frank discussion without embarrassment.

The women support legislation to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax” that would do away with Michigan’s 6 percent sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Ten states have eliminated the “pink tax,” joining the five states with no sales tax at all.

Legislation barely moved last session, but bills have been reintroduced in Lansing this session. Stephenson believes the more female makeup of the Legislature could help push them along to passage.

Tait and Stephenson also support expanding federal nutritional programs, WIC and food assistance to cover feminine hygiene products and diapers, items hard for low-income families to afford.

Helping Women Period has gotten help from a janitorial company, MichCo, which buys the products at cost. Storage Sense has donated a 10-by-15 foot unit in Old Town to store the products until they can be delivered. Before that, boxes were stored in trunks of cars, Tait said. Besides tampons and pads, they offer wipes, incontinence pads and panty liners.

The group has some 15 volunteers plus several sewing groups that create colorful bags to hold the products — enough for 20 pads and 20 tampons to cover one month of menstruation per person.

The group has grown so much with all volunteer help that Tait and Stephenson are looking to add a paid staff member to coordinate donations, volunteers and deliveries.

Volunteers say they want to help others because they can remember not having the products when they needed them or not being able to afford them.

“I’ve been in that position,” said volunteer Toni Coloagross of Delta Township, who helps deliver the products. “Buy the milk or buy the tampons?”

___

Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com