Three Chapel Hill High schoolers shake up the status quo by distributing free menstrual products to fellow students
By Haley Pineles
In September 2022, three Chapel Hill High School juniors launched Free Period, a menstruation-centric passion project they worked on together over the summer. It all started in June after the trio realized that, whenever their classmates had forgotten menstrual products at home, they’d wind up having to ask their friends or teachers for help – a request that can range from being mildly inconvenient to mortifying depending on the individual.
Co-founders Elise Chang, 17, Allegra Gray, 17 and Sydney Lin, 16, spearhead their efforts with the club’s 50 members, all of whom meet every other week to discuss bathroom fill-up logistics, design flyers and spread awareness about the club’s efforts through fundraisers. The demand leaves bathrooms in need of refills twice a week, so club members volunteer for supply duty. Club members put together care boxes containing menstrual products, such as pads, tampons and liners. These are left in the bathroom for students and faculty alike to take freely. The products in question are listed on the club’s wish lists on LinkTree.
But even for these determined students, dismantling harmful misconceptions about menstruation hasn’t been easy. “When we first started the club, a lot of guys would come up and just start laughing and making jokes about it,” Allegra says. In agreement, Elise adds, “My guy friends [who] I know, they’re supportive, and they wouldn’t make fun of it. … But [with] some other guys, we’re still working to sort of be like, ‘Don’t laugh about this. Don’t feel embarrassed to talk about it. Don’t make it a taboo thing.’”
Despite pop culture staples like Disney’s animated movie “Turning Red” and “Baymax!” the animated miniseries spreading the message that menstruation is a normal part of life, the taboo can be very formidable. Elise cited Florida Republican Rep. Stan McClain’s proposed House Bill 1069, which would make it illegal to talk about menstruation at school, as an example of extreme period stigma on an institutional level. By framing all menstrual issues as “girl problems,” not only does this categorization ostracize young women and girls from peers, it leaves no room for transgender and nonbinary people who menstruate to discuss their experiences and steers young men and boys away from the conversation entirely.
The co-founders agree that it’s one of the most effective ways to destigmatize periods is by teaching kids – regardless of gender – about menstruation alongside other lessons on anatomy, so that around the time that some of their classmates are experiencing their first menstrual cycle, it could significantly reduce the number of children and teenagers who are ashamed of their own normal bodily functions. “Kids [who are getting their periods for the first time] shouldn’t have to go through that stigma,” Elise says. Another means of reducing the shame and stigma around periods involves providing free period products in every public bathroom, not just in schools. She elaborates further on this point: “We should have free products everywhere. And this shouldn’t be just an ‘our school’ thing, it should be an every school thing.”
Free Period has received an abundance of support from friends, teachers and parents alike. One notable helper is French teacher and Free Period club advisor Christen Campbell, who allows club members to store extra products in her classroom and often stays late to help. The club has gained a significant amount of awareness over the past year and receives a steady amount of donations.
One anonymous student comments: “Free Period has been such a lifesaver for me – especially since my period isn’t super regular – having their products available is super helpful.”
Another student, sophomore Elea Haskell says, “Having Free Period products available in the school bathrooms assures me that I, or any other student, will never be without the supplies that [we] need. The products greatly support students that experience period poverty, and the club has even educated [students] about the topic through posters in the school bathrooms. Though not widely discussed, the lack of period products is a problem that many high school students face, and education about it by the club is commendable. I am sure that many students are grateful to the club for helping them in a pinch, but most importantly for their efforts to fight period poverty on a local scale.”
Overall, the response to Free Period has been indisputably positive. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the gratitude and the generosity, and it was definitely a lot more than we could ever expect,” Elise says.
Moving forward, Sydney and her co-founders are looking ahead to summer: “We’re thinking of putting summer packet sets together for students, either using products such as Thinx underwear or [menstrual] cups that are reusable and sustainable, so that students don’t have to spend $20 a month on different products that they can’t usually get at home.” This gesture is Free Period’s way of giving back to the Chapel Hill community.
The club hopes to collaborate with their sister club at East Chapel Hill High School, as well as help Orange High School set up their own program. The club also hopes to extend its outreach to McDougle Middle School. On the fundraiser frontier, Free Period has partnered with Brandwein’s Bagels but hopes to expand its list of partner organizations.