Of the many things people who struggle to put food on the table may have to give up in exchange, feminine hygiene products may not be the first that comes to mind.
Alexis Lagon, a Louisa County High School senior, became aware of the issue while watching a documentary about women in India who learn how to operate a machine to make these products, because they couldn’t afford to buy them in a store.
“When I saw that I realized it was a problem here in the U.S., too,” Lagon said.
She resolved to do something about it by helping the Louisa County Resource Council make feminine hygiene products available to low-income women and girls. Later this year she plans to deliver hundreds of boxes of sanitary pads and tampons to the council’s warehouse to cap off a fundraising drive.
“I was worried that people would not be comfortable with the topic, because a lot of people aren’t,” Lagon said. “But when I told [resource council director Lloyd] Runnett about it, he just said, ‘Tell me what you want to donate.’ He’s had to turn people away and already knew of the need.”
Donations for Lagon’s effort have come from several sources, including Sylvia’s Sister, a nonprofit organization in Richmond dedicated to this issue, Walmart and numerous individuals.
Lagon’s fundraising started as part of an academic project for the Blue Ridge Virtual Governor’s School. She had become interested over the past year in being an activist for feminist causes and interned at the Charlottesville office of the National Organization for Women.
While there she learned about legislative efforts to make feminine hygiene products more affordable, including reducing sales and use taxes. The state Senate voted earlier this month to eliminate the sales tax on these products altogether, after legislators had voted to cut the tax in half the previous year.
Lagon calls it a luxury tax, which she said is unfair because the products are a necessity. She estimated that tampons and pads have an average price of $7 per box.
“The tax was ridiculous—you can’t control when you have a period,” Lagon said.
The Senate also recently passed a bill to require public schools to make the feminine hygiene products available in bathrooms for students in grades five through 12.
After going to activist meetings and protests, Lagon wanted to take action, not just talk about it. Her fundraising effort was the perfect action step.
When she talks about her project to other students, she’s surprised how squeamish her counterparts are about the subject. Girls, in particular, sometimes tell her it seems more a matter to be kept private.
“But then a lot of them say, ‘I didn’t realize they were so expensive, because I’ve never had to buy my own.’” Lagon said.