One in four students skip school because of menstrual periods, North Carolina charity says

One in four students skip school because of menstrual periods, North Carolina charity says. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.


By Fraser Sherman

CARRBORO – “No student should have to choose between going to school and having their period,” says Michelle Schaefer-Old, the founder of the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.

Unfortunately, Schaefer-Old told The Local Reporter that some students have to make that choice. One out of four teenage students, she said, suffer “period poverty, choosing to skip school because they can’t afford pads or tampons and don’t want to risk an embarrassing accident.” The Orange County-based Diaper Bank provides diapers to families that can’t afford them and menstrual pads, cups and tampons.

“Period poverty exacerbates the vicious cycle of poverty by forcing menstruators to withdraw from daily life, losing pay or missing educational opportunities,” the Carrboro Town Council said earlier this month when it proclaimed May 20-28 as Period Poverty Awareness Week.

“Whereas menstruators struggling with period poverty risk infections by using proxy products – such as socks or toilet paper – or not changing products as often as needed; whereas, the people of Carrboro recognize that period poverty is a public health issue, and addressing period poverty can lead to economic opportunity for Carrboro’s people and surrounding communities and improved health for women and girls/menstruators, thus ensuring all people have access to the basic necessities required to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Diaper Bank Beginnings

The Diaper Bank website says when Schaefer-Old’s infant son began suffering severe diaper rashes and infections, she had to change his diapers 20 to 30 times a day. That set her thinking about the many parents in her situation who couldn’t afford a diaper supply of that magnitude. She resolved to do something to help.

“I started the bank in 2013 at my kitchen table in Durham,” Schaefer-Old says. Her initial goal was to distribute 50,000 diapers a year in Durham. “We now distribute over six million diapers statewide.”

Schaefer-Old said she and her team soon learned that mothers who couldn’t afford diapers couldn’t afford menstrual products either. In 2014, when period poverty was associated more with the developing world than the United States, the Diaper Bank of North Carolina began distributing period protection items. The Diaper Bank started by distributing in Durham schools. Now, its reach extends to 400 schools around North Carolina.

Partnering for Periods

“Period supplies are school supplies,” Schaefer-Old says. No student should have to stay home because they can’t afford period protection. The Diaper Bank also provides underwear, leggings and shorts so that students who have an accident can change clothes.”

Schaefer-Old said student-run Period Power Clubs handle distribution at some schools. For example, a club might put supplies in an empty locker with signs in student bathrooms identifying them. That way, students can obtain what they need without awkward conversations.

The Diaper Bank has three main methods of distributing donations. Open partners, such as the clubs, provide supplies to anyone who asks. Closed partners, such as the Orange County Health Department, provide supplies to their clients. The Diaper Bank also uses mobile distribution, for example, by sending vans with supplies to areas without convenience stores.

How To Help

The Diaper Bank website includes links to its Amazon wish lists for diapers and period products. Schaefer-Old said their clients prefer pads, but the organization also accepts donations of tampons and menstrual cups, cash donations and volunteering time.

“We accept 600 volunteers a month of all ages,” Schaefer-Old said. “Anybody can volunteer to repackage the products or get them out to schools and shelters and families that need them.”

Advocacy Day

On Wednesday, the Diaper Bank of North Carolina and the Period Power Coalition – an alliance between the Diaper Bank and similar state groups – will hold an advocacy day at the North Carolina Legislative Building in Raleigh. Schaefer-Old said period poverty advocates want to thank the legislature for a $5,000 grant program that provides students with free feminine hygiene products.

“We’re glad they acknowledge the issue,” she said, though she added that the state can do more. The grant program only reaches 60 schools a year, she said, and isn’t enough to provide them all with a year’s worth of period products.

Schaefer-Old said many people have an incorrect impression of the typical Diaper Bank’s client, that “it’s someone who doesn’t care enough or work hard enough – that’s the opposite of what we see. Currently 76% of the families that receive our services are working one to three jobs and still cannot afford hygiene items.” Parents will prioritize feeding their kids if it’s a choice between buying pads and putting bread on the table.

“I don’t think people realize how prevalent this is,” she said. “If someone cannot afford food, they cannot afford hygiene items.”

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.
This reporter can be reached at

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