Women who are homeless suffer a lot of indignities. One of them is being without tampons and pads when their periods occur. Put yourself in their place. How would you feel?
Homeless shelters do a tremendous job of providing a safe place to sleep and a warm meal but they often have to rely on what is donated to them. Funding sources don’t generally include a tampon and pad line item. And frankly, it just doesn’t occur to most people to donate menstrual supplies. Who wants to drive up to a shelter with a bag full of tampons when winter coats and mittens seem so much more essential?
If you’re somebody who thinks it’s important to help homeless women keep their dignity by having access to clean, safe menstrual supplies, then you should think about doing a tampon and pad donation drive in your town. Here’s my quick guidebook:
1. Talk to your local women’s shelter first. Connect with the executive director or volunteer coordinator and tell them what you want to do. This is important because when you solicit donations, you will want to say where the donations will be going. So having a shelter on board, basically saying that you can use their name in your asks, is essential. This gave donors confidence that their contribution would end up in the right place.
2. Give your effort a name and a look. I used “Time of the Month Club” for my campaign and asked a friend who is a graphic artist to give the Club a ‘look’. You can use anything but it needs to be smart and snappy. Jan’s Tampon Drive doesn’t do it. Time of the Month Club has some personality (it’s also copyrighted so you’ll have to find another name). You want that because you will be wearing out the airwaves with your pitches. See #3.
3. Fire up the social media engine. Before you do anything, you need to have a decent number of Facebook friends or other social media followers. If you’re a little weak on that front, partner with one or two other people who have a lot of followers. Then in terms of social media strategy: first, I messaged every female Facebook friend who I thought would possibly donate or organize a donation drive at her office. Second, I posted Facebook updates about the drive, not just asking people for donations but posting pictures of anyone who donated and tagging them to make sure the photo had the widest possible circulation.
4. Encourage group giving. One inspired person can inspire others if she thinks of it, like, ‘hey, wait, instead of just buying a couple of boxes of pads, I could get everybody in the office to buy a couple and then we’d have a big bag to donate!’ Talk to your friends and colleagues about hosting a drive at their place of work, church, or club. I bring them a box and flyers to help in their outreach. Promising to come back and pick up the box is key, though, so be prepared for some heavy lifting!
5. Make it easy to donate. I offered to drive anywhere to pick up a donation. I also had a box on my front porch labeled Time of the Month Club where people could leave donations night or day. Some people wanted to take their donations directly to the shelter. That’s fine but I encouraged people to bring them to me so I could keep a count, bag up donations in consistent amounts, and drop them off gradually so as not to swamp the shelter.
6. Thank donors A LOT. I thanked donors and am still trying to come up with ways to thank them. I’m not done yet on that front. I thanked them in person, via email, and on Facebook. Facebook was huge because it had the effect of reminding people of the donation drive but with a new face. Every time someone handed me a bag or a box, I’d ask to take their picture and ask if it was okay for me to post it. Most people said yes when I told them that other people would be inspired by seeing that they had donated.
7. Keep track. Time of the Month Club collects close to 50,000 tampons and pads over the course of a year. That’s a lot of misery and embarrassment avoided. In addition to keeping count, write down who donated, especially those who organized mini drives at their offices, book clubs or among their friends. This will be useful information if you decide to do a second drive.
Time of the Month Club is really about sisterhood. Maybe we haven’t all shared the experience of homelessness, but we have shared this: We are women. We menstruate. It needs to be dealt with in a way that allows us to carry on with life. If our homeless sisters don’t have what they need, those of us who are housed can ante up. It’s that simple really.
If you decide to do a drive, let me know. If you have questions, ask me. You can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go forth. Collect. Have fun.