Downtown Kent now has a communal menstrual product project in 18 of its businesses and organizations’ restrooms. Some of the restrooms included are in Tree City Coffee & Pastry, Scribbles Coffee and the Kent Free Library.
“Women-Friendly Kent” provides totes with tampons and pads to public and employee restrooms.
The totes have a “take one, leave one” structure. This means someone should take a pad or tampon if he or she needs one, and leave a pad or tampon if they do not need one.
The project was created by Kent City Councilwoman Gwen Rosenberg. She was inspired by young women speaking publicly about periods and menstruation and creating similar projects in their communities and universities.
“I went to a catholic elementary school and a catholic high school,” Rosenberg said. “Those kinds of conversations just didn't happen spontaneously or in a setting that was altogether healthy.”
In March, this inspired Rosenberg, who is also the owner of Popped! in downtown Kent, to speak to some of her female employees about the struggles they face with forgetting or not having money for menstrual products.
“They either had to leave their place of employment or arrange to have someone else leave their job to take care of this,” she said. “Until then, it truly did not occur to me that these products should be readily available like paper towels, toilet paper and hand soap. It really is a matter of public health and well-being.”
Rosenberg said she then placed a tote of menstrual products in her own employee restroom and asked several other downtown businesses to adopt these too. There was hesitation from business owners; they were concerned that people would take all of the products without leaving one.
“After two to three weeks, no one stole everything,” she said. This led Rosenberg to continue bringing totes to more downtown businesses and organizations.
Rosenberg said she then met with two of the organizers for Kent State University’s “The Period Project,” Claire Weihe and Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, to discuss expanding the downtown Kent project. Weihe is a student intern at the Women's Center and Pegg-Kirby is the director of the Women’s Center.
The university’s project was one of the inspirations for Rosenberg’s project.
Rosenberg said she sought out and gained support from influential local organizations, like Main Street Kent. The organization sent an email out to local businesses asking if they would be interested in the project. Rosenberg said she hand-delivered the totes to the interested businesses herself.
With support from local organizations and businesses behind her, she presented the project to the rest of the Kent City Council to ask for funding. The council voted unanimously to give $200 annually to keep the project running on June 19.
“I’m glad Gwen took this project on,” Pegg-Kirby said. “She utilized the relationships and position she has in the community to do this.”
Rosenberg said she wants to expand the project to more local businesses, the future city hall and local schools. She hopes menstrual products provided in restrooms will become a normal convenience.
“I want these products to be an accepted and reliable thing,” Rosenberg said. “Like ‘of course that restroom has them. Why wouldn’t it?’”
Nathan Mehring covers downtown. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.