Students Develop Initiative to Address Period Poverty in New York’s Capital Region

Brynn and Claire lay on their backs and are surrounded by period products.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 16, 2024) — UAlbany students Brynn Watkins and Claire Jennings submitted for grant funding to develop Capital Region Menstrual Health, an initiative that provides access to menstrual hygiene products and education. To date, they have distributed over 100,000 period products in New York’s Capital Region. 

The idea for Capital Region Menstrual Health started through Watkins and Jennings’ work for the New York State Public Health Corps, where they have been fellows for almost two years. As a part of their work, Watkins was partnering with local health departments to bring condoms to partner organizations, and the need for menstrual health products was brought to her attention. 

“One of the organizations said that they don’t need condoms—they always have them,” Watkins explains. “But what they were desperate for was menstrual health products like pads and tampons, and it made me think ‘how can I help?’” 

Watkins and Jennings then formed Capital Region Menstrual Health to address the need for increased period products in the Capital Region. 

In New York State, one in 6 women and girls between ages 12-44 live below the federal poverty line, making it more difficult for them to afford menstrual hygiene products. According to Women of Wearables, the cost of a month’s supply of period products is more expensive in New York than other states, and people who menstruate in New York spend the most over their lifetime on period products. 

Period Pantries
Period pantries that are now located at the Albany Boys and Girls Club and Schenectady Community Ministries.

Watkins and Jennings secured their first grant for Capital Region Menstrual Health in June 2022, and have since obtained over $20,000 in grants to support their work. They bring period products directly into under-resourced communities by partnering with community-based organizations and stocking “period pantries” -- metal, weatherproof boxes that house period products that anyone can take if they need them, regardless of the time of day. The non-profit now has 10 period pantries located in high-need areas across Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and Cohoes. 

“Our initiative is the first of its kind in the Capital Region, and we’re fighting the stigma and educating people about having a period while increasing access to products,” Jennings says. “2 in 5 people in the U.S. experience period poverty, but this often isn’t talked about, even though having a period is a normal bodily function that over half of our population goes through.” 

Watkins and Jennings coordinate with community organizations—including food pantries, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters— and use census data to determine the most high-need areas where period pantries may be most in-demand. They deliver the menstrual product donations themselves and run donation drives to secure additional products for community members in need. 

Now in the second year of Capital Region Menstrual Health, Watkins and Jennings are focusing on advocacy and education, and host educational sessions for children, teens, and adults to provide more information about menstruation, menstrual health, and gender inclusive language. They present at community organizations, libraries, schools, and community events like Tulip Fest, and have an active presence on social media to share information, resources and updates. 

Brynn and Claire behind a table at Albany's Tulip Fest
Watkins and Jennings tabling for Capital Region Menstrual Health at Albany's Tulip Festival.

“There are people who want to talk about this—people come up to us and ask good questions and want to tell us stories, and it’s been amazing to engage with the community and serve as the voice that says, ‘it’s not a bad thing to talk about your period’,” says Watkins. 

Watkins and Jennings note that their Master of Public Health (MPH) curriculum at UAlbany has helped them to further Capital Region Menstrual Health’s mission and adapt their workflow based on the best practices they are learning in the classroom. 

“At UAlbany, we’ve learned the importance of tracking the data, and it’s helped us to keep a very clear excel sheet on what’s coming in and what’s going out for donations,” Watkins explains. 

“We've also been able to come up with estimated costs for running the pantries, and then we’re able to use these numbers to make proposals to funders,” Jennings says. “It’s nice because from attending school while doing this project, it’s like we literally have mentorship for this every day as we apply what we’re learning about program implementation and evaluation in real time.” 

Watkins and Jennings plan to partner with local schools to ensure that menstrual products are available on site for students. While recent legislation requires menstrual products to be provided to students for free in middle and high school student bathrooms in New York, Jennings explains that there is not a funding mechanism behind the law, leaving many school districts struggling to provide the necessary supplies. 

“Nobody should have to struggle to get period products, and we’re excited to see the changes that are happening in our local community,” Jennings says.