Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Donations for Dignity: Groups help battle “period poverty,” promote health, equity, confidence

From left: Deb Marks, Tracy Varano-Garrison, Megan Swope, Addeline Alaniz Edwards, Kathleen Frascona, Nicolee Hiltz

In Jessica Deetz’s household, the month’s supply of period products from the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank doesn’t go to waste.

“There’s different sizes in each pack,” said Deetz, of Marysville. “My 13-year-old uses the smaller ones, my 17-year-old uses the next step up, and I get the bigger ones.”

Period poverty can pull a curtain over the lives of women and girls who can’t afford supplies month after month. Now, Harrisburg-area women are joining a movement to distribute period products in the city and throughout the region, all in the name of dignity and empowerment.

“They may miss school,” said Nicolee Hiltz, a backer of The Period Project Harrisburg. “They can’t go to work. All of the things we want to use to empower people can hold them back in a very basic way.”

In the United States, one woman in four has struggled to afford period products. Without proper protection, one low-income woman in three misses work, school or social interaction. One girl in five misses all or part of her school days due to her periods.

“Imagine 25% of your life not being able to be comfortable and go out and have confidence,” said Kathleen Frascona, a board member of the Period Project Harrisburg.

The dope-slap realization that period supplies can’t be taken for granted motivates local volunteers to help get period products to women who need them. Supplies are fundamental to health and well-being, but Medicaid and food assistance don’t cover the costs. In some states—thankfully, not Pennsylvania—sanitary supplies are taxable.

On top of everything, tampon prices have spiked nearly 10% since mid-2021. For Deetz, whose husband works while she stays home with their four kids—ages 3 to 17 and all with special needs—period supplies are “definitely a help. The extra money, we can put towards other bills.”

Feel Safer Now

Megan Swope is a nurse who wrote a paper on period poverty while earning her bachelor’s degree. With a startup grant from Community Health Outreach at her then-employer, Penn State Health Hershey Medical Center, she launched the Period Project Harrisburg in spring 2021.

“It was such a dignity issue,” Swope said. “These are simple things we take for granted, and in the middle of the pandemic, you could see how difficult things had become for people.”

At the first Period Project Harrisburg event, volunteers—“tons of volunteers”—formed assembly lines to compile bulk supplies into individual period packs. Swope saw a movement emerge, and the Period Project now delivers packs to Harrisburg agencies, healthcare providers and shelters for distribution to their clientele—about 5,000 packs in 2021.

Around the same time, the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank, based in Linglestown, added period products to its services. The fit was a natural, surfacing when 78% of the chapter’s diaper recipient families surveyed said they would be interested in receiving period products.

“We believe that every woman and girl menstruator deserves to be able to participate fully in her daily life, and they deserve to be clean, comfortable and healthy,” said Executive Director Amanda Barnes.

Diaper Bank partner agencies can now receive period packs in different configurations of tampons, pads and liners. Packets for teens are assembled in opaque zipper bags—ladies, donate those Clinique freebies!—for discreet tucking into purses and clear backpacks.

The diaper bank also offers postpartum pads for new moms.

Jessica Deetz, three years past the birth of her youngest, prefers the thick pads for managing a monthly flow made constant by blood thinners.

“I can feel safer going out,” she said. “When I have all these doctors’ appointments and meetings I have to go to, I’m not worried those days.”

Since beginning in July 2021, the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank has distributed 29,541 period products in 1,345 packets that went to 442 unique users.

“It’s something we all have to deal with,” said Barnes. “How can we meet everybody where they are?”

There for Them

Education weaves throughout the movement, starting with the health risks associated with improper period care. Use of alternatives such as rags and toilet paper can cause urinary tract and yeast infections. Overextended use of tampons can heighten the risk of toxic shock syndrome—a topic the Period Project addresses with flyers in its period packs.

L.O.O.P. Ministries, based in Harrisburg, was already providing hygiene classes for girls when Swope offered feminine products, said Melisa Burnett, whose husband founded the youth programming provider. The combination of education and available period products helps girls “with feeling comfortable about their bodies, being able to deal with and get rid of that stigma and shame they may have, and knowing someone is there for them,” Burnett said.

For women impacted by sexual exploitation and living in hotels or experiencing homelessness, products from the Period Project Harrisburg is “one way to offer some hope,” said Andrea Myers, executive director of She’s Somebody’s Daughter outreach.

“When you’re in a transient lifestyle, the things for those recurring needs are harder to keep on hand,” Myers said. “It’s humanizing to know that you don’t have to worry about that, and to not have that become a barrier to being out and about and engaging in the community.”

At the Beacon Clinic in Uptown Harrisburg, products from the Period Project Harrisburg are among the clinic’s most highly sought items, said Executive Director Debra McClain.

“If women don’t have access to pads or tampons, then they’ll use other things, and they will get sick,” McClain said.

In Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood, women living in Brethren Housing Association apartments, as they transition away from homelessness or domestic violence, can pick up essential needs in the BHA donation closet. While shampoo, conditioner and cleaning supplies are donated regularly, getting donors to think of feminine supplies “is a hard one,” said Marilyn Bellesfield, director of program, policy and development. “We can serve 22 women at one time, and that’s a lot of tampons.”

The Period Project Harrisburg helps fill the need, she said.

“The less they have to worry about with their period, the more we can focus and concentrate on things that are in their control, things that they can do to better themselves,” Bellesfield said.

Quality, Value

During a recent Day of Impact at the Hilton Harrisburg, about two-dozen women arrived to assemble packs for the Period Project Harrisburg. Alice Kirchner came from the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey, whose mission is empowering women and girls.

“The minute you hear about period poverty, you start to think about your own circumstance and how privileged you are, that you don’t have to ask, ‘What don’t I buy this week or this month so I can buy these things that give me the dignity of being a woman who’s menstruating?’” Kirchner said. “It really does impact the dignity and quality and value that people put on themselves.”

The first time 15-year-old Maura Campbell, of Lower Paxton Township, learned about period poverty, she thought, “That’s kind of crazy.” Since then, she and her fellow Girl Scouts from Troop 10235 have volunteered with Healthy Steps Diaper Bank to assemble period packs and run donation drives.

“Nobody likes having their period, and it’s terrible that sanitary products are so expensive in the first place,” said Campbell. “It’s just a basic need. It’s not something fun to buy. It’s something that every girl needs.”

Period poverty is an issue of health and social equity, said McClain.

“Women are the ones who lose the most in life from wages, education and opportunities not only because of their period but because we’re caring for our families,” she said. “We need to do everything we can to give these women who are menstruating an opportunity to continue in the progress of their lives without it being impacted by not having the products they need to care for their monthly cycles.”

For more information on the Period Project Harrisburg and Healthy Steps Diaper Bank, or to volunteer or donate, visit or Both also are on Facebook.


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