August 22, 2023 By Carol Britton Meyer
St. John’s Outreach Ministry Free., under the leadership of parishioner Kenzie Blackwell, was recently awarded a $500,000 state grant to support the program’s mission to end period poverty in Massachusetts.
“With the money awarded from the state, Free. will be able to expand services to hundreds of schools statewide who have requested support through our needs assessment as well as additional shelters and community resource centers,” Founder Kenzie Blackwell told the Hingham Anchor. “Free. has provided products to more than 100 schools and supports about 20 area Community Partners.”
Free. began at St. John’s in 2021 as a volunteer-led and staffed hyperlocal period product program that quickly grew to include communities beyond Hingham. So far, Free. has distributed more than 656,000 period products. One of the biggest needs is among students in local schools.
The grant was made possible through the efforts of many St. John’s parishioners, who joined assembly lines at packing parties, delivered supplies to partner organizations, organized product drives, hosted events, and learned how to collectively respond to the needs of the community.
Free. is a member of the Alliance for Period Supplies and the MA Menstrual Equity Coalition. “We have a three-pronged approach to our work: donations, advocacy, and awareness,” Blackwell said. “We are working to get the I AM bill passed in MA, which will require schools, shelters, and state prisons to provide period products on site.”
Free. also created the Teal Circle Project to help students access products in schools that don’t have supplies in their restrooms. “We are launching this program with almost 200 schools in Massachusetts this fall,” she said.
Continuation of the Free. program is important, Blackwell explained, because nationally, 1 in 4 students report missing school due to period poverty and 4 in 5 report missing class time due to the lack of product access in their schools.
“Free. noticed the same trend here in Massachusetts,” she said. “Benefits do not cover period supplies, and our most at-risk students are often left with inadequate or unhealthy alternatives to manage their period needs. In many cases, students are forced to remain home during their period.”
Free. receives a high volume of requests from schools. To help prepare for the upcoming school year, Free. conducted a statewide assessment of product availability and student needs with school nurses. Below are some of the findings:
• 92% of responding schools are unable to meet the period product needs of students.
• More than 300 schools all across the state have asked Free. to provide products to help students remain in their classrooms.
• Over 5,000 students in just 360 schools were identified by school nurses as at risk of not having any period care at all.
• Roughly 30% of schools have products available in restrooms where students need them, and the majority of schools expect students to rely on word of mouth to know where to find necessary period products.
Free. took these findings to Senator Patrick O’Connor, “who immediately created a budget amendment for $500,000 to help Free. meet the needs of Massachusetts students,” according to Blackwell.
“Thank you to Senator Patrick O’Connor for recognizing the need for funding, to fellow Budget Committee members Senator Michael Rodrigues, Senator Cindy Friedman, Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, and Rep. Todd Smola for their approval and to Governor Maura Healey for the final budget signature ensuring period poverty does not stop an education in Massachusetts,” Blackwell said.
For further information or to request products or make a donation, go to https://www.freeperiodministry.org/.
The post Free. awarded $500,000 grant to help end period poverty in Massachusetts appeared first on Hingham Anchor.
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