Through acts of tikkun olam, Jewish people have longed engaged in good works aimed at improving the conditions of the disadvantaged.
In South Carolina, the disadvantaged includes thousands of women who live in poverty. Their struggle to afford feminine hygiene products impacts their daily lives, and faith groups are looking to help.
"Enabling women to have dignity to go to their jobs and go to school — that’s helping heal the world," said Sharon Hox, president of the Charleston chapter of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
The group recently held a "period party," where volunteers collected just under 300 bags packed with tampons, sanitary pads, wipes and pantyliners for schoolchildren and homeless individuals. The effort seeks to address the issue of "period poverty," which underscores the reality of thousands of women who can't afford feminine hygiene products.
A 2017 survey conducted by Always, a menstrual hygiene brand, showed that one in five girls in the U.S. have either left school early or missed school entirely due to lack of period protection.
Advocates say part of the reason is because the products are not affordable for low-income residents since feminine hygiene items aren't covered by government assistance programs, such as WIC, SNAP or Medicaid, leading some to use socks and plastic bags instead of professional hygiene resources, said Sharron Champion, co-founder of the Greenville-based Homeless Period Project.
Additionally, in S.C., a state where hundreds of thousands of women live in poverty, feminine products aren't exempt from sales taxes.
While many are still unaware of the issue, advocates, elected officials and faith leaders have worked in recent years to address the problem.
The Homeless Period Project was established in 2015 when the group began hosting period parties to offer products to schools and shelters.
Since its founding, the Greenville-based period project has helped organize hundreds of parties across the Palmetto State, donated almost 400,000 period packs and established a presence in every middle and high school in South Carolina, Champion said.
Hadassah collaborated with the project in a recent event where volunteers gathered at a private home in West Ashley and assembled hundreds of bags of menstrual hygiene products.
Hox said the group became aware of the issue surrounding period poverty some months ago, but she believes awareness will now begin to rise within the Jewish community.
The group also plans to advocate for a statehouse bill aimed at helping women in need. The measure was introduced by State Rep. Krystle Matthews, D-Ladson, who previously cited the bill as a matter of equality.
The legislation would free the products from being taxed.
“To tax them is to say to women and girls, 'These products are not a necessity,'" Champion said.
Religious leaders and advocacy organizations recognize that shedding the stigma is part of the challenge.
Those who attend period parties are often a bit reserved at first. But after joining an assembly line of volunteers manufacturing bags of feminine products, those who were embarrassed become more comfortable, Champion said.
"You see the stigma wash away," she said.
Champion hopes to expand her organization to more directly address systemic issues, like poverty and joblessness.
Her organization recently received a $10,000 grant to examine the feasibility of attaching a workforce development program to the organization.
She also hopes the Homeless Period Project could, at some point, manufacture menstrual products, giving the organization a regular means of income to sustain the project, as well as developing a yoga program and daycare.