Project helping homeless women aims to meet often-overlooked need

Laura Wood spoke about her project with a group of young women during a brunch event at Next Dor. 

Ellen Futterman, Editor

After Laura Wood read an article in the Huffington Post, she knew she had to do something. The story detailed the struggle many homeless women have when it comes to taking care of their feminine hygiene needs during menstruation. Tampons and sanitary pads are expensive and often top the list of needs at homeless shelters.

“It really struck me that a natural function of a woman’s body has become a hardship for some,” said Wood, 31, a member of Central Reform Congregation. “I had a hard time wrapping my head around that.”

Wood called a number of area homeless shelters to confirm the need and difficulty in getting those supplies. 

“You could hear the pain in their voices around the challenges of collecting the items,” Wood said. “Often, when various organizations have hygiene drives, they wind up collecting soap, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, those types of things. Tampons and sanitary pads don’t often come to people’s minds.”

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So Wood, who works at Castlewood Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Ballwin and is pursuing a doctoral degree in counseling education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, decided to take action. She used Facebook to ask friends and acquaintances to consider sending boxes of tampons and sanitary pads to her. She, in turn, promised to bring these items to Shalom House and the Women’s Safe House, which would distribute them to those in need.

“I reached out to all my St. Louis people, thinking maybe I would get a total of 30 boxes, and could take 15 to each place,” Wood said. “Within 24 hours, I had tons of people in different states reaching out for my address. There was such an outpouring. People I didn’t even know well in two other places, Oakland, California and down in Florida, were moved to do their own versions of the drive there.”

Leah Greenbaum, who works at CRC as member outreach coordinator and a communications associate, is a friend of Wood’s.  

“At one point, her entire (Central West End) living room was stacked floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall with boxes and boxes of feminine hygiene products,” Greenbaum said. “She collected thousands of donations.”

Actually, Wood collected more than 10,000 tampons and sanitary pads from 120 people and organizations and wound up extending her drive by several weeks. Every day, she posted a photo or update honoring her “Period Project Warrior of the Day.”

Wood also was invited by Next Dor, the Jewish organization for young adults, to speak at the organization’s annual Ladies Brunch the day after Valentine’s Day. Brooke Adams, a resident of Next Dor who helped organize the event, said about 20 women showed up with armfuls of feminine hygiene products for Wood’s drive. They left having enjoyed a dynamic conversation about womanhood, its challenges and the need to take care of one another.

“We talked about women teaching women and giving fellowship to women,” said Adams, 28, who also belongs to CRC and is a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network. “A lot of times in society, women see each other as competition. We all walked away feeling as if we are in this together and need to support our sisters who are less fortunate, more vulnerable and may be homeless now.”

Wood said that what made the biggest impression were the notes people included with their donations, all but two from women. Nearly all wrote at least a few words of support.

“And people donated really good tampons and pads,” she said. “No one skimped. One woman wrote, ‘I got the smooth glide brand because, well, you know …’ ”

Although Wood is done with this year’s drive, she plans to make it an annual tradition. She suggests anyone who would like to donate feminine hygiene items in the meantime call Danette at Shalom House, 314-534-1010, or Ann at Women’s Safe House, 314-772-4535, for details. 

No blockheads here

In the March issue of St. Louis Magazine, a comparison of vital statistics of 200 St.  Louis metropolitan area schools shows that Louis and Sarah Block Yeshiva High School has achieved the highest average ACT scores of all local private or public high schools. 

The school, which was established in 1978, is honoring its faculty at its 36th annual Scholarship Gala at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 16, at the Sheraton Clayton Plaza, 7730 Bonhomme Avenue. Rabbi Yissocher Frand, a renowned educator and lecturer, will be the featured speaker. For information and to RSVP, call 314-872-8701 or email [email protected]

Locked not loaded

Disheartened by the number of youngsters treated for gunshot wounds and killed by gun accidents in the home, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice is providing free gun locks to households where children live.

This new initiative, called “Lock It For Love,” is co-chaired by Barbara Finch and Carol Wofsey, both members of Central Reform Congregation. Organizing partners with Women’s Voices include Parents As Teachers and the St. Louis Crisis Nursery. The St. Louis Police Department is assisting with demonstrating how the gun locks work.

Lise Bernstein, president of Women’s Voices and a CRC member, explained that her organization strives to both educate and advocate on social justice issues. It has had a policy regarding gun violence prevention since 2010, “but it wasn’t until after Newtown that several of our members said we have to do more,” she said. 

“Our very first effort was Mother’s Day 2013, when we ran a full-page ad in the Post-Dispatch.  We asked what women wanted for Mother’s Day. The answer: safe kids. We felt that as moms, we needed to demand action be taken to emphasize  common sense gun safety.”

A new report from the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence shows that access to guns in the home is now a leading cause of death for children and teens. In 2013, 876 children ages 10 to 19 committed suicide by gun, and 82 percent of those guns belonged to a parent or family member. Household guns also are responsible for most toddler and child accidental shootings.

Bernstein said Women’s Voices will participate in the 2015 Impact Rally on Saturday, April 18, at the Youth Learning Center, 4471 Olive Street, to provide information and distribute gun locks. The group also will be at a resource fair sponsored by the Maternal and Family Health Coalition on May 9 at the O’Fallon Park Recreation Center in north St. Louis. 

“We are available to participate in community programs geared toward families and parenting,” Bernstein said. “We will provide information about gun safety as well as free gun locks for those who have guns in their home and don’t have gun locks.

“We’re talking about common-sense precautions — locking up guns, storing the bullets in a separate place and hiding the key so that children can’t get to it. It’s no different than locking up medication to keep it away from children or putting little ones in a car seat. We see this as a health and safety issue.”