Food bank raises thousands to help tackle period poverty

Pic: Bianca Van Dijk

Bow Food Bank, in Bow and Bethnal Green, raised over £5,000 within 48 hours last month to provide free menstrual products to the community. 

The campaign was run in partnership with Bloody Good Period and Big Give to raise awareness about period poverty and period dignity.  

Franziska Liebig, one of the three project leaders who call themselves the Period Champions, said: “Being disadvantaged just because you’re on your period…that shouldn’t be a 21st century thing”. 

She stressed that when women have limited access to period products like pads and tampons, many resort to using them for longer than the intended duration, leading to bacterial overgrowth, rashes, and, in some rare cases, toxic shock syndrome.

Research from 2022 revealed that 1 in 4 women who menstruate in the UK struggle to afford ample products, with organisations like Bloody Good Period estimating the lifetime cost of a period is £4,800. 

Liebig explained that when access to period products are limited, it can lead to crippling mental health impacts such as disrupted education through missed days of school and general reluctance to leave the house. 

Families in Tower Hamlets are entitled to  12 visits to Bow Food Bank, where they will be provided with toiletries or hygiene products in addition to food staples. 

Liebig said: “The pads [are] very, very popular. When they’re unavailable, we’ve had people say, ‘I’ll use my visit and come back another day’ – that’s how important [they are] to them.” 

Bow Food Bank provide around 18,500 period products a year, but with the cost-of-living crisis, supply no longer meets demand.

The Period Champions are hoping to fund more sustainable alternatives, such as period pants and menstrual cups. 

Despite requiring a higher upfront investment, such products will be more environmentally friendly and financially viable, as menstrual cups can typically be washed and reused for several years. 

However, Liebig explained, with an overwhelming Bengali Muslim community in Tower Hamlets, the male head of the family is often the one coming in for collection, and conversation around period products is limited to pointing to the picture of pads. She said: “There are language barriers, and also just taboos around periods and bleeding.” 

The UK has come a long way from deeming necessary period products ‘luxury goods’ by abolishing the tampon tax. All state-maintained schools and education organisations for 16-19 year-olds funded by the Department for Education are eligible to order free period products for students

However, according to the not-for-profit campaign group Free Periods, less than half of schools and colleges have actually signed up for the scheme. 

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