Local nonprofit addresses hygiene insecurity and period poverty
By Rachel Kelly
The negative stigma attached to hygiene can greatly affect one’s sense of well-being. No doubt all of us can remember that one boy or girl in school that just “didn’t smell good.” They were ridiculed, avoided, hailed as dirty, publicly bullied and ostracized. Due to no fault of their own, kids without proper hygiene are often avoided. It is easy to take for granted the barriers that exist to accessing proper hygiene, because most adults are able to control their environment. However, kids don’t have that privilege. Are there showers with soap at home? Is home safe? Do the students spend a lot of time outside their home? Are they reliably provided with hygiene products? Does their family have the income for hygiene products, which are often not present at food pantries?
Girls, especially, can suffer from this stigma due to the arrival and regularity of their periods. Lack of access to hygiene products already causes undue stress and anxiety among women who are properly equipped (there are always surprises). Teens experience this stress tenfold, due to their early age and the lack of control they exert over their environment. They have neither money nor reliable transportation. This is only incensed by the negative attention and social separation experienced outside the home by kids without access to hygiene products. Nobody needs this kind of self-conscious pressure.
Thankfully, this problem is easily fixed. Raising Girls is a nonprofit that provides essential hygiene products to 86 schools here in the 253. Their gift of hygiene supplies in a large tote bag promotes a sense of pride, reduces bullying, encourages new friendships, and ultimately paves the way for the success of our students.
Raising Girls was founded by Sharon Chambers-Gordon. However, Sharon would say that it was inspired by her mother, Mary. Mary was a small-town community organizer, minister, money changer, letter reader and caretaker. Her involvement in her community gave her a keen understanding of the individual practical needs of her neighbors. She was in the regular habit of packing care baskets for her neighbors in need, usually full of food. She made sure to pack in an extra bar of soap, wash rags or body lotion—whatever she knew was an area of need. Right down to the way in which she tied the tea towel, Mary had a way of making sure her community was seen. Mary knew that self-care is not just getting a good meal, but it is also feeling refreshed. A feeling of self-confidence goes a long way in making sure that a person is successful. Mary knew how to show care for the whole person. Sharon founded Raising Girls as a testament in her mother’s honor and as a legacy to her own daughter Amara. Raising Girls now serves our larger community with the help of more than 250 volunteers.
“People have a heart to give, they simply just need to be asked,” says Sharon.
Armed with this simple acknowledgement of the goodness of all people and a faith in that of our community, Sharon began making connections for Raising Girls by contacting the Tacoma School District. The superintendent showed immediate interest, since there are organizations that focus on food and school products, but none on hygiene. From there she contacted individual schools, talking to each principal in turn to hear about the needs of individual students. Raising Girls then began to collect large donations of hygiene products for both boys and girls. The bags that Raising Girls put together were much larger than expected. Each tote bag is filled with full-size products, meaning that it often lasts for two months. When the district, schools, principals and staff actually saw the quality of the hygiene bags, they were immediately on board. From there, the doors were open to the nonprofit, who every year is able to serve more schools and students. Last year they were able to provide 4,700 hygiene bags throughout the South Sound. This simple work has ensured that no one student is left without the capacity to refresh and care for themselves outside of the home, allowing girls (and boys) in our community to hold their heads up high. This leads to greater understanding their power to express their individuality and pursue their goals.
Raising Girls sees the whole person, practically providing for basic needs that empower the students in our community. In this way, Sharon Chambers-Gordon and all the many volunteers who selflessly give carry on the legacy of Mary. Because of Raising Girls, the South Sound gets to experience a little bit of small-town goodness, even though we are a much larger collection of cities. We get to feel the dignity that comes with the ease of access to practical everyday needs, and the love that comes from individual attention. Raising Girls allows us to be that much more connected to one another. Through Raising Girls, our kids are seen. Because of Raising Girls, there is respect for every girl.
If you’re interested in getting involved with Raising Girls, more information is available on their website, RaisingGirls.org. It’s easy enough to volunteer, with options for in-kind donations of unopened hygiene products, or the donation of funds. You can even gather your co-workers or your company for a volunteer day, as Raising Girls is always in need of help at their hygiene tote bag packing parties. Raising Girls is happy to partner with local organizations to share love with all the students of our community! Speaking of partnerships, on September 9 at Chamber Creek Park, Vision Up Wellness is holding its second 5k walk/run event to end period poverty. All proceeds will benefit Raising Girls. To register, please visit RaisingGirls.org/events. The cost is $30 for an individual runner/walker, $55 for two, and $100 for a team of four. Children 12 and younger are free. All paying runners will receive a T-shirt. Sign up now for your chance to give back!