You may have seen LOLA’s social campaign last week that asked Instagram users to use the power of their share to donate period products to women in need. With the help of over 3,027 shares, LOLA was able to donate 300,000 period products.
The image that spread across the internet on Galentine’s and Valentine’s Day was commissioned in collaboration with Marie Suter and an all-female creative team, and inspired by the difference a small act of kindness can make for millions of women. It captured the impact that supporting each other can have and served as a reminder that women in need live among us everyday.
Before the campaign kicked off, LOLA had a chance to catch up with Katie Tynes, Director of Volunteer Services at Women In Need, Inc. (Win), to learn first-hand about the experience of homelessness in the US, how it’s not one-size-fits-all, and how the organization she works for is helping to make a difference with donations from companies like LOLA.
Q: What is WIN?
A: For more than 33 years, Win has provided safe housing, critical services, and groundbreaking programs to help homeless women and their children rebuild their lives. In the past year, Win has served close to 10,000 homeless people — including nearly 6,000 children — and helped more than 800 families transition out of shelter into homes of their own.
Founded in 1983, Win began as a shelter for four homeless women and their combined six children. Since then, Win has evolved to become a leading, non-profit agency and the largest provider of shelter for homeless families in New York City.
Win has sharpened its focus from offering shelter and support to homeless women and children, to providing comprehensive programs and services that enable homeless families to succeed in life and break the cycle of homelessness. Groundbreaking programs developed by Win include our academy, income building, children’s after school, mentorship and recreation.
Q: What are the most frequently requested items from the women at Win?
A: When families come into shelter they are only able to bring in two bags per person, so many essential items are left behind. Many times when families move in the warmer months they leave behind their winter clothing and coats. So depending on the time of year, these are large requested items for both our women and children. However, generally through the year we get many requests for feminine hygiene products, toiletries and baby items like diapers, wipes, etc.
Q: What do the women at Win use if they don’t have access to period products?
A: Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a package of legislation in 2016 increasing access to feminine hygiene products for New York City’s shelter residents, students and inmates. This legislation guarantees access to these essential products for all female Department of Correction inmates; persons residing in a City shelter and youth under the care of certain Children’s Services facilities – including transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming New Yorkers; and public school students. So our shelters are always stocked with some sort of product. The issues arise in the type of products the shelters have on hand. Sometimes our families will only have access to pads when they prefer tampons and vice versa. We have donation drives regularly and when our families request items with our department we are able to fulfill both sides. We typically get about 60-80 internal requests a month so we’re always looking for groups, companies and individuals to help stock the donation space.
Q: How does not having access to period products affect their lives?
A: The cost of feminine hygiene is not cheap. According to an article in US Today last March, the average woman spends about $150 to $300 on disposable products a year. For a low to nearly no income household, those costs add up. Not to mention if there are several period aged children within the household. Having free access allows them to use their money for things that matter like reinvesting in their future.
Q: How does Win help menstruating women?
A: In addition to providing free access to feminine hygiene products, we have hosted several volunteer events breaking down the stigma of periods. We worked with a group that would come once a month to our sites and meet with the moms and their daughters. This isn’t something that is typically talked about, especially in low-income communities, so it was a great way for our families to connect and not have it be so taboo.
Q: How do you feel about what LOLA’s mission to help give homeless women access to feminine care products not only in NYC, but nationwide?
A: We’re in an age where more companies have a social mission, and I think that’s something more will be moving towards. What is great about it is that you’re helping your communities. Many people don’t realize that the majority of the homeless population in New York City is women and children, at 70%. Being able to provide a necessary items that all women and girls need is truly essential to their well-being. When girls go to school confident, it reflects in their school work. It might seem like a little thing, but all of this adds up to helping break the cycle of homelessness.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A: The best part of my job is getting to work with our kids. At the end of the day that’s what they are, kids, just like yours and mine. They have the same hopes and dreams, they want the same things, they are struggling with the same growing pains. The only difference is that their parents have found themselves on hard times. So my team gets to bring in fun activities sponsored by amazing volunteers, take them on field trips and provide them with brand new backpacks with school supplies each September and with their holiday wish list items each December. When you see their smiles, it makes everything worth it!