Blue Valley juniors start Flow Forward ‘period poverty’ effort

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Three Blue Valley students are working to provide menstrual products and education in the community through their organization, Flow Forward.

Two thirds of low-income women in the United States could not afford menstrual products in the past year, according to data published by the Journal of Global Health Records. Blue Valley High juniors Trisha Rastogi, Sarah Ye and Neha Katakamshetty have taken this issue to heart and donated over 10,000 period products to schools, shelters and hospitals in the community.

This past summer, the three founders sat down to brainstorm how they could give back to their community and decided to put their efforts toward the accessibility of menstrual products. Since starting in July, they’ve hosted a product drive, attended conferences and connected with other nonprofits in the area.

“I always saw these empty period dispensers in business and education settings and I thought, ‘I’m in a very good place, but for people who aren’t, how can they access these kinds of resources and products?’” Ye said.

Flow Forward
Neha Katakamshetty (left) and Sarah Ye with some of the donations. Photo courtesy Flow Forward.

Flow Forward takes donations online and in local drives

Flow Forward hosted their first donation drive in September when they housed bins at their school, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Hen House, Cosentino’s and a pediatric care center. The products from this drive went to Children’s Mercy and two local shelters.

Most of the donations came from the group’s Amazon wishlist. Here’s the link to donate.

“Every day during the drive, it was just boxes of stuff from Amazon,” Rastogi said. “There was this one donation from this one guy and it was so many products — I think he ordered the entire wishlist.”

Amy Boersma, a 37-year-old Kansas City woman who recently experienced being unhoused for three months, relied on organizations similar to Flow Forward to access period products through a homeless shelter where she stayed. Still, Boersma said she struggled to receive products that worked for her on a regular basis.

“You have the issue of, ‘Do I just work with the really crappy pad, do I just use toilet paper or something, or do I just deal with it because I can’t afford that $7 box,” Boersma said.

The donations from Flow Forward will be welcomed in the community, Boersma said, as they’re working to collect things like menstrual underwear, cups and organic tampons, whereas many places provide only pads.

Flow Forward
Photo courtesy Flow Forward.

Flow Forward is part of a larger initiative

Recently, Flow Forward has become a chapter of PERIOD., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2014 by high school students in Portland, Oregon. Katakamshetty is hopeful this partnership will allow the group to do more.

“A lot of the places we went to, we weren’t able to set up a location because we’re not officially a nonprofit, but now that we’re under PERIOD., I think it will be easier for our next drive to set up locations,” Katakamshetty said.

The founders hope that being a chapter of PERIOD. will also allow them to host local educational events and guest speakers geared toward destigmatizing periods and educating people who menstruate on how to manage their cycle and access period products.

“If they don’t talk about periods, they don’t have education about how to handle periods, and that leads to a lack of resources,” Katakamshetty said

Boersma is also frustrated by the negative stigma associated with periods. She said it has directly impacted her ability to access products.

“It should be just as common as finding toilet paper,” Boersma said. “I think that if there were less shame around periods…then this would not be an issue.”

In addition to education, Flow Forward wants to move into advocacy as the organization grows, Rastogi said. Specifically, she wants the group to be able to address period products in correctional facilities.

In addition to hosting more drives, the founders of Flow Forward want to host fundraisers to fund buying period products, which they will focus on donating to rural schools and Title I schools — schools that receive additional government funding in order to support a high percentage of low-income students.

Natasha Vyhovsky is a contributor to the Post.

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