Dignity Grows Launches Austin Chapter | Shalom Austin

Dignity Grows Launches Austin Chapter

Community News, Philanthropy, The Jewish Outlook

Feb 24, 2022

Shalom Austin Women’s Philanthropy volunteers with Dignity Grows, a national organization which empowers neighbors in need with free comprehensive and menstrual hygiene supplies for everybody. Photo Credit: Robin Davis

by Heilla J. Lain

Shalom Austin Women’s Philanthropy makes a difference for our community year-round with its educational programs, volunteer opportunities and philanthropy. Now, with the founding of an Austin chapter of Dignity Grows, WP members can make a wider impact. Dignity Grows is a national organization which empowers neighbors in need with free comprehensive and menstrual hygiene supplies for everybody. Lack of access to menstrual products, education, toilets, handwashing facilities and hygienic waste management creates barriers to education, employment, and social and religious connections.

The issue of period poverty is finally getting the attention it deserves. For some context, below are some startling facts about the reality of period poverty.

Women living in poverty already confront innumerable barriers. Unfortunately, one in five American women cannot afford monthly menstrual and comprehensive hygiene supplies. According to the 2014 Shriver Report, there are at least 42 million impoverished women in the U.S., many of whom experience shame for being unable to care for themselves during their periods. In lieu of sanitary products, many of these women are forced to use items like rags, paper towels, toilet paper or cardboard. Others ration sanitary products by using them for extended amounts of time. These women frequently miss work, which can lead to lost wages and further compound the cycle of poverty. Predictably, period poverty became significantly worse during the coronavirus pandemic due to financial strain.

School-age girls also experience period poverty which can leave them feeling shameful, choosing to stay home from school during their periods and miss critical learning and developmental time. In fact, one in five girls miss school due to lack of menstrual products.

The state of Texas and national governmental systems do not provide resources for women living in period poverty. While food pantries and homeless shelters provide much needed food to clients, period products are rarely available at these organizations. Moreover, Federal assistance programs like food stamps, Medicaid, WIC, and SNAP cannot be used for menstrual products.

The menstrual product tax or “tampon tax” exists in approximately 34 states. A tampon tax is in effect in Texas. While there is some movement from Texas representatives and advocacy groups in the state, unfortunately, feminine hygiene products are taxed like a luxury item while they are a monthly medical necessity. For comparison purposes, men’s grooming products and erectile dysfunction medications are not taxed.

Dignity Grows steps in to address this inequity and fulfill unmet needs through its fundraising and pack parties. Just one $10 donation buys a DG reusable, branded zipper-top tote filled with a month’s supply of sanitary pads and panty liners, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and hand wipes. WP’s recently-launched Austin chapter of DG quickly raised enough money through its DG Committee to purchase over 100 totes. They were happy to connect with SAFE (a local human service agency serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation and domestic violence) as a distribution partner for the first packing party which took place on Sunday, January 23 at WP Chair Robin Davis’ home.

Nearly 20 women from WP and other neighbors came together to pack totes with essential personal hygiene products. In fact, there was a surprise $100 donation from an 8th grader who lives in the neighborhood and heard about WP’s new DG chapter through her mom’s friend who is on the DG Committee. In a beautiful example of the power of what one person can do, Julie (the 8th grader) decided to forgo presents for her birthday and instead asked for $10 donations which she then donated to DG.

Thanks to Julie, ten additional women at SAFE received personal hygiene items which they need but cannot afford. The atmosphere at the packing party was buoyant, thanks in part to fresh breakfast tacos but mostly due to the indisputable fact that they were truly able to make a woman’s life better for one month with just $10.

The DG Committee plans to fundraise and hold many more packing parties in the future.

Having basic hygiene necessities is life-changing, increasing one’s sense of respect and self-worth. Women, girls and all menstruators gain confidence and thrive when they can engage in daily activities without worrying about their periods. With the launch of the new Dignity Grows Austin Chapter, members of WP can help make life more dignified for women in need throughout Austin.

Sunday school classes, bar and bat mitzvah projects, school clubs and teams, and any other organizations interested in helping to end period poverty in Austin, or community/service organization with clients who need DG Totes, contact Arielle Levy at Arielle.levy@shalomaustin.org.

To donate to the Austin DG Chapter, visit shalomaustin.org/dignity-grows.

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