When people donate to individuals in need or to organizations that provide aide, it’s usually the same items—toiletries such as soap, lotion, deodorant, etc.—but what about the other items? Those products that few like to talk about, but women need on a monthly basis. SisterFriend Inc., a new community organization that provides feminine hygiene products and more to social service organizations, is not only meeting those needs, but also breaking the stigma that comes along with it.
“This is one of the major needs for shelters because, of course, menstruation is not something that’s talked about; it’s unfortunately taboo and there is a lot of shame around that. Women are groomed from day one to hide the fact that they have periods, so if that’s the case, it doesn’t really get funded, organizations don’t really have the supplies and it’s something people don’t think to donate,” said Tamara Whiting, founder of SisterFriend Inc. “(Shelters) get the hats, the gloves, the deodorant the soaps, which they continuously need all the time, but they don’t get the tampons, the pads, the bras, the underwear, even the adult diapers, so that’s where SisterFriend comes in and says, “Let us help you fill this need that you may have, let us fill the gap.”
The concept for SisterFriend was derived after Whiting, who at one time was a volunteer and later consultant for the social service organization Bethlehem Haven and saw the need for products first-hand, decided that she wanted to do more to aid and uplift homeless and underprivileged women and girls. She created this organization “of women working for women” to help sustain feminine health despite their social-economic status.
Since it commenced four months ago, the nonprofit has partnered with Bethlehem Haven, a nonprofit that provides local women with emergency shelter, transitional and permanent supportive housing, meals, and medical and mental health services, and Light of Life Rescue Mission, which meets the immediate needs of poor and homeless men and women. In October it will add Shepherd’s Heart, which focuses on meeting the needs of veterans, to its growing list of partners. They will provide products for their emergency winter shelter.
Each month, the SisterFriend team and volunteers put together kits containing 10 tampons or 10 sanitary pads, or sometimes both, as well as a note of encouragement, which is given to uplift the woman’s spirits and make that time of the month easier; and delivers approximately 100 kits to its various partners. Along with feminine hygiene products, the group also provides adult diapers, bras and panties.
“This isn’t about SisterFriend, it isn’t necessarily about providing feminine hygiene products, it’s really about providing and helping these women maintain a sense of dignity in their lives. Life has already handed these women a bad hand, so if we can make that one time a little bit easier for them, then we’re doing our job.”
Amber Jackson, development and volunteer coordinator at Bethlehem Haven, said she has been working with SisterFriend for months and finds the initiative to be successful and the women truly grateful.
“We receive a lot of donations, but one thing people don’t think of are feminine hygiene products. Because Bethlehem Haven, at any given time, houses 96 women, that’s something we’re always in constant need of. We may put requests out for it, but some people are uncomfortable with purchasing that type of item; so when SisterFriend contacted us, we were grateful that we could benefit from it,” Jackson said.
Like Jackson, Heidi Allison, Donor Relations and Grant coordinator of Light of Life, said she is grateful for SisterFriend’s generosity.
“There’s definitely a need and we’re just grateful that SisterFriend stepped up to fill it,” Allison said.
Recently, on Sept. 19, SisterFriend held its first Community Outreach Day, just one of many events they have held since the organization began. Along with the day that introduced them to the community, they’ve attended local community days and held volunteer events.
Whiting said through making their presence known in the community, she hopes more people will donate, not only products, but money and time as well to help them spread the word about the organization, and its reach.
“It’s definitely grown. I think the more people that hear about what we do, the more excited they get ( and) the more they have what I call the “Oprah Uh-huh” moment, where they say, “Oh I didn’t know,” she said. “We have three partners now, but the more donations we receive, the more organizations we can add.”
Jackson said she encourages others to donate to SisterFriend. “I think it’s a great organization,” she said. “I encourage you to look it up, become involved, donate and participate.”
Next, Whiting said the group plans to focus on partnering with local schools. She said just like shelters, schools also have limited supplies, if any at all. She said school aged girls are missing school due to lack of supplies and they want to eliminate that.
But as Whiting said before, SisterFriend is not just about fulfilling a need; it’s about breaking the stigma and bringing awareness to the issue of feminine hygiene. She said by them talking about it, hopefully, men will not only feel comfortable buying products, but they will give money to organizations that help those women in need of them.
“Our sisters are out there, our sisters on the street need us. These are your sisters, mothers, grandmothers and nieces; this is not just a woman’s issue, this touches men too,” she said. “We need to take a look in the mirror and really say, ‘what can we do? How can we go above and beyond what we’re already doing to make a difference in a woman’s life?’”
(For more information on SisterFriend Inc. or how to get involved, visit www.sisterfriend.org.)
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