University of Alberta: Community-minded student creates ‘Period Pantry’ for those in need

Passersby in Edmonton’s Garneau district may have noticed a new mid-sized cabinet covered in colourful stickers, looking like it belongs not on the street but in an office. Those who stop at its location outside Remedy Cafe on 109th Street to look inside are often surprised to realize the unlocked unit is stocked with free menstrual products, courtesy of a community-minded student at the University of Alberta.

“Communities look out for all their members, including the most vulnerable,” said Annie Wachowich, a fifth-year student in the Faculty of Arts and Peter Lougheed Leadership College scholar. For her personal leadership project, she knew she wanted to tackle poverty — a tough challenge made worse by COVID-19 — but was advised not to get lost in such a big problem. Her focus became period poverty, resulting in Edmonton’s first Period Pantry.

“My goal for this project was to help alleviate the experiences of period poverty for menstruators in Edmonton,” said Wachowich. “This pantry will provide easy access to menstrual products for those who need it.”

Her initiative follows the lead of Hamilton’s Period Pop-Ups, a similar project started earlier this year to offer free menstrual products, which can be considered a luxury for people facing homelessness or income insecurity.

All Cycles Edmonton, a local organization that partnered with Wachowich on the project, notes that menstrual products are rarely donated to homeless shelters and the cost of purchasing these items is often prohibitive, so this support can go a long way to preserve the dignity of those who menstruate and are experiencing poverty.

Wachowich said the knowledge that she was helping others, along with the inspiration she got from the dedicated community partners she worked with, motivated her to overcome obstacles in the project. Unveiling the cabinet, making the vision a reality, is what she calls the most memorable part of her efforts this past summer.

“I was surprised by how many people were excited when it launched and how much positive feedback I received, even from people I don’t know,” she said.

Now that the concept is proven, she hopes to add more locations and grow a network to offer easy access for those who need it.

“This is just one step toward eliminating poverty in Edmonton, but one that’s a substantial relief for those who menstruate and are in financial need.”

In addition to a local graphic designer, All Cycles Edmonton and Remedy Cafe, Wachowich was guided by YWCA Edmonton, which agreed to verify the “stretch experience” ⏤ a requirement of Annie’s leadership certificate with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College. The assignment challenges scholars to make a positive impact in their community while working beyond their comfort zone.

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