Not everybody would get excited enough to jump up on top of a pallet of Kotex pads for a photo opp, but that’s what Jessica Cooney did Wednesday when the shipment arrived at Just Food.
Cooney, now client services manager for the Douglas County food bank, said that when she started working there as a community health intern in January 2018, families were always so relieved to get donations of diapers, but the supply would always run out very quickly. The same applied to period supplies.
“I knew that there had to be something else we could do to increase our supply,” she said via email Thursday.
Cooney said she was surprised to learn that people can’t purchase diapers with benefits from WIC, the federal Women, Infants and Children program. It only helps with food and formula costs. The only assistance that does provide funds for diapers and menstrual products is TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, but “TANF has quite a few requirements and families can only receive it for a total of 24 months over their entire lifetime, making it incredibly limiting,” she said.
“Access to diapers and period supplies quickly became a point of passion for me when I realized how difficult access was and without adequate access, how quickly people can get left behind,” Cooney said. “Without access to basic needs, a cyclical issue develops.”
Elizabeth Keever, executive director of Just Food, said diapers can cost more than $100 per child per month, and that’s 10% or more of many low-income families’ budgets. Nationally, most childcare businesses require that families provide diapers for kids in their care, Keever said.
“If a child can’t go to daycare, a parent has to stay home, if a parent has to stay home, they don’t have consistent access to income, etc.,” Cooney said.
Cooney said she found the National Diaper Bank Network and realized there was no diaper bank in Douglas County; the same then went for the Alliance on Period Supplies.
“A part of Just Food’s mission is to reduce the barriers to health and well-being so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to expand on that,” she said.
So Cooney took action. Just Food launched Just Basics with the goal of providing necessary hygiene items for families and individuals of all family sizes and ages, including infant and adult diapers, wipes and menstrual support products, Keever said.
In 2019, Just Food became the sole member of the National Diaper Bank Network for Douglas County and just the third member from Kansas, Keever said; this January, Just Food became the sole Kansas member of the Alliance for Period Supplies.
“These partnerships allow Just Food the ability to acquire products at a significantly discounted rate compared to retailers,” Keever said via email Thursday. “These products are then distributed to clients as part of a monthly/weekly allocation with their food in order to help ensure they can make ends meet and keep ends covered.”
Thus far in 2021, Keever said, Just Food serves an average of 150-200 households with diapers each month.
Keever also cited stats from the Alliance for Period Supplies: 1 in 5 menstruators in the United States have used items such as newspapers, toilet paper, socks and other absorbent materials to manage their periods due to lack of income, and the average American menstruator spends almost $6,400 on period products from ages 12-52.
“There is some really exciting policy advocacy work going on in other states to either lower tax or provide menstrual products for free and we just submitted a request to (Gov.) Laura Kelly’s office to proclaim National Period Poverty Awareness Week from May (24-31) so we are hopeful that goes through!” Cooney said. “There is still a lot of work to be done and I’m really excited to continue growing our Just Basics program.”
Need help? Click here to visit Just Food’s website to find out how you can get food and basics. Just Food is located at 1000 E. 11th St., near 11th Street and Haskell Avenue. Reach the food bank at email@example.com or 785-856-7030.
Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.