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Lopez campaigns for homeless women’s hygiene

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Keila Lopez wanted to help meet the basic needs of homeless women in Tallahassee as she did while living in Tampa. When she met Beth Burns, director of Chelsea House, she discovered a need often overlooked: feminine hygiene products.

“I did a lot of community service with the women’s shelter in Tampa,” said Lopez. “When I moved up to Tallahassee, I really wanted to find a way to get connected with the homeless women.”

Lopez (Class of 2019) was unsure how to approach seeking donations, so she sought the help of AMWA Faculty Advisor Suzanne Harrison, who encouraged her to begin a word-of-mouth campaign. Lopez created a webpage for giving and emailed the college’s faculty, staff and students around the state.

“Donations just poured in from everywhere, and within the first week we raised about $450,” said Lopez. “When the end of the second week rolled around, it was $755.”

Her drive, with support from the American Medical Women’s Association, lasted from March 28 to April 15.

“We were able to purchase about 65 value-sized boxes of pads and tampons,” said Lopez, who plans to become an AMWA member. “We also had three trash bags of feminine hygiene products donated.”

She received assistance from a like-minded student.

“Mark Kastner and I are both passionate about homeless advocacy and worked together on his MEDIpack campaign,” said Lopez. “Each MEDIpack contained products the homeless often universally go without, such as toilet paper, toothbrushes and medicines. Mark had some left over, and when I mentioned this project he donated about 60 packs.”

Lopez delivered the items to Chelsea House, which provides housing for women and children, and HOPE Community of the Big Bend Homeless Coalition, which provides transitional housing for anyone.

“The women at Chelsea House mentioned how difficult it was to look for work or attend school when they had to deal with their period,” Lopez said. “They mentioned feelings of embarrassment, shame and low self-esteem associated with not having access to menstrual products.”

From a HOPE Community staff worker, Lopez learned that programs like food stamps don’t cover menstrual products. Most women go without.

One woman repeatedly said “Praise God! Thank you!” when Lopez arrived with the donations. Burns was grateful as well.

“We have been able to distribute the supplies to women that are at or near homelessness both at Chelsea House as well as women in the community that are in crisis,” she said. “The supplies collected will last us at least through the summer, if not longer.”

Lopez hopes the donations will become annual. “Not having access to these products affects how quickly a woman can get back on her feet, and it can chip away at her dignity,” she said. “Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury. There is still so much need for donations and awareness. We can bridge the gap.”