Earlier this school year, eighth-graders Izzy Masias and Audrey Williams noticed a problem at their middle school in Rochester, Thurston County: accessing feminine hygiene products. Sure, a girl could leave her class, go to her locker, get supplies (if she could afford them), use the restroom then get back to class, but that took lots of time. Plus, it could be embarrassing. And what if they didn’t expect their period to start that day?
For a school leadership project, the two young women developed a solution. They started providing a variety of supplies in their school’s bathrooms. Not only did it help other female students directly, it also opened up conversations around menstruation, a fact of life for most women worldwide.
During this episode of Ed Lab Live, Izzy and Audrey talk about their project No Problem. Period and how they’re continuing to get supplies to people who need them even during the coronavirus pandemic. You can donate to the cause here.
TRANSCRIPT, LIGHTLY EDITED
Izzy Masias: No Problem. Period is a project that we started, and we supply feminine hygiene products in school bathrooms. But since COVID-19 has come along, we switched gears into delivering bags to doorsteps to people in need.
Anne Hillman: Nice. So how did you all come up with this idea? Why would you need to stock things in middle-school bathrooms?
Izzy: Well, No Problem. Period started as a leadership project that involved us helping the community. And so one day we were sitting in the car, we were going to a football game. And we were talking about topics at our school. And then the issue came up that we are still having to pay 25 cents for a product when we were in need. And so we thought, “Oh my gosh, we should make this our project.”
Audrey Williams: And we did some research on it also, and we learned that periods can affect a lot of things in school, like how you’re going to get out of class, get to your locker, get yourself to the bathroom, and then get back to class and have an excuse or something to tell the teacher.
Anne: Yeah, like it’s this sort of awkward process for you. It takes a lot of time and then it’s a little obvious.
Izzy: And then not to mention that the products are pretty uncomfortable and there’s only one size in the bathrooms. And so we supply — us, with our product — five different sizes of pads and tampons.
Audrey: Well — a lot.
Anne: So a whole variety. Because when you keep saying “25 cents,” like, there’s vending machines in your bathrooms, right?
Izzy: Yeah, there’s little metal boxes and you have to insert a quarter …
Audrey: And there’s two things. There’s one size which is pretty big.
Anne: The pads, which are really bulky and awkward.
Audrey: Yeah. And one size tampon, then they each cost a quarter, and I don’t think we know anybody that carries quarters. Yeah.
Anne: So you all decided to go ahead and just start stocking the bathrooms. Well, what was the reaction within your school?
Izzy: Especially the girls, they were super thankful. They’re really appreciative because well, we had an assembly. And we were telling the girls about what these bins were so they didn’t just show up in the bathrooms. Oh, yeah, it was an only-girls assembly. So there wasn’t like boys so that they weren’t uncomfortable. Even like male teachers, or principals weren’t in there.
Anne: Wait, what do you mean? Because it’s really uncomfortable to have these conversations with guys around?
Izzy: Well, if girls wanted to ask questions, we wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable because we were talking about it. Like guys could be saying weird comments to them or something, and we just want them to feel like it was a safe space.
Audrey: We also had two assemblies actually, one for seventh and eighth grade because they’re older, and it (getting their period) might have already happened, I guess. And one for the sixth grade, where we kind of like — where the counselor helped out and kind of went more in-depth. So sixth-graders wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with the seventh- and eighth-graders.
Anne: Oh, that’s cool. So they could ask more questions about puberty?
Izzy: Yeah. And so during the assembly, we pretty much talked about how to respect these bins and not to mess them up because they’re here for the girls. And they were very respectful of them. I don’t think we had any incidents while we were in school of them being messed up or taking products they didn’t need because they were open for anybody and whatever they needed, they could take.
Anne: So people were really respectful?
Audrey: Yeah, especially we got really great feedback from a lot of people. We got great feedback from the girls in our school. We got great feedback from the boys even, which was kind of unexpected. But they were like, “Hey, how’s the period thing going?” That’s what it’s called, I guess. So the teachers also asked Izzy and I that.
Anne: So, I’m gonna ask you the dreaded question. All right, why can’t you just go to the office?
Izzy: Well, our nurse’s office is right in front of our cafeteria. And during the school days, there’s a lot of lunches going on, because we have grade lunches. And so when you’re walking up there, and let’s say that you had an incident, and you could see it or something, it was like a walk of shame. It was everybody could see you. Everybody could be laughing at you. And a lot of the time, most schools can only afford one nurse for their whole district. And we have four schools in our district. So nurses are only there one or two days a week, or something like that. And that’s just …
Anne: Kind of mortifying.
Anne: So now you’re outside of schools. You don’t have the problem of getting the quarter or getting out of class or walking in front of everybody. Why keep the project going?
Izzy: Because we think that there’s still people that need products. And there’s still people that need us because especially with people not being able to afford things in bulk right now. Because what if a lot of things are sold out because of COVID? So we want to be there for people if they just need a week’s supply, or if they have a lot of teenagers and they need something, then we’re here to give it to them.
Audrey: And it’s for everybody. Mostly, we try and to stay as close as us as possible, but we can drive a little bit because me and Izzy don’t drive.
Izzy: Yeah, we don’t drive.
Audrey: Yeah. So they email us, so it’s private. They don’t have to comment and everybody can see that. So they email us. And then we drive, hopefully what they want, because hopefully we’ll have it.
Izzy: Yeah. And they can request products.
Anne: Cool. And then you just drop them off outside of people’s houses?
Audrey: Yeah, we have white little lunch sacks. But a “No Problem. Period.” sticker on it. So it’s kind of discreet. So it’s kind of like, not obvious, I guess.
Anne: Although it sounds like a lot of the positive effect of your project beyond just getting physical things in people’s hands is that you’ve really managed to change conversations around having your period. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Izzy: Well, that was one of our biggest goals. And I think it’s so crazy because we’re so young that we can change a subject so big like that.
Anne: Like, are you more open to having conversations around this type of topic with your dad or your brother?
Izzy: Yeah, I think it really has brought understanding to them. Because, again, like the question, “Why don’t you just go to the nurse’s office?” or something like that. That’s what they originally thought, but I feel like, they’ve talked to us about how much they’ve learned from us.
Anne: Do you talk to the other boys in your school or the male teachers?
Audrey: Yeah, it’s, it’s kind of commonly like, “Oh, OK, so now we have this project at our school.” So now, kind of everybody I would say just talks about it. Like it’s nothing.
Izzy: Yeah, like, like, no big deal.
Audrey: Like this. We’re having a conversation about periods.
Anne: Yeah. Because, you know, it’s something half of the population experiences for large chunks of their lives.
Izzy and Audrey: Yeah.
Anne: Pretty natural thing to talk about. What advice would you give to other folks who want to start similar programs in their own schools? Or outside of schools, because buildings are closed.
Audrey: We are actually planning on making packets that are full with information on how to start a GoFundMe, and how to stock up the products, how to make a bin. All sorts of stuff like that. And we’re planning on sending those out to schools first surrounding the Rochester School District, and then hopefully branching out to a lot of places, I guess. And then they can have their own branch-off, I guess, of No Problem. Period at their schools. But they can take care of it, I guess. Yeah.
Anne: So like, give them the information, they need to talk about it and inform other folks about it. So that’s really great.
Audrey and Izzy: Thank you.
Anne: Well, thank you both very much for your time. Is there anything else you’d want to share?
Izzy: I think that one thing we would like girls to know, like young girls, is that we want them to feel confident with the products and know that they have products when they need it. And they shouldn’t have to worry about it, and they can focus more in school. And that … and then I forgot the rest.
Oh, and then it shouldn’t be such an embarrassing topic to talk about.
Audrey: Good job!
Anne: Those are really good points. How about you, Audrey?
Audrey: I think Izzy kind of hit on what I was gonna say, too. So I think that’s it.
Anne: Yeah. Well, thank you both very much. It’s a pretty remarkable project that you have going on.
Audrey: Yes. Thank you for inviting us to talk. Thanks.