Despite its name, the Milwaukee Diaper Mission does more than just distribute 30,000-plus diapers monthly. The organization is also currently providing around 450 period kits per month, directly combatting “period poverty” in Milwaukee.
Nationally, two in five menstruators struggle to purchase period supplies due to a lack of income, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies and a 2021 study by U by Kotex. The 2021 study also found that period poverty disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx people.
“Based on the requests that we receive every month, from families and through the agencies that we work with, there’s a high need for these products,” says Meagan Johnson, co-founder and executive director of the Diaper Mission. “Folks can’t afford them or don’t have access to them, or they’re not available on the shelves. Or it’s a combination of all three.”
Menstruation, of course, is a gendered issue, but Johnson notes that it affects people of all identities. “Not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators identify as women,” she says.
More than a third of low-income women surveyed in the Kotex study reported missing work or school rather than risking going without protection. Some use makeshift period supplies that may not be sanitary and could cause infection. “It takes a huge emotional toll,” Johnson says. “If you’re missing school or you’re missing work, you may be missing out on education or income.”
Johnson says that while there is a lack of data on Milwaukee’s period poverty, she sees education about the issue as part of the organization’s future role in the community.
“We also want to make sure that we’re champions in the advocacy side of things, making sure that not only are we educating people about menstruation in general, but breaking down the stigmas that come along with it.”
The Diaper Mission offers three types of period kits: pad, tampon and reusable kits, which include a menstrual cup, period underwear and reusable pads. They also offer chemical- and fragrance-free disposable options for those who request them. “Dignity of choice is something I talk about a lot,” Johnson says. “Just because someone may be struggling, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have access to options and to the items that they feel most comfortable using.”
Nearly all of the supplies in the kits are donations, and the Diaper Mission, which is in its third year, continues to have volunteers and supporters help provide these products – and diapers, half a million so far – to those who need them. “I knew it was a necessary and vital resource that didn’t exist,” Johnson says, “but I didn’t really anticipate how much the community would kind of surround us and wrap us up in their arms and support us.”