By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The number one most needed, but least donated item for women in need are menstrual products, followed by bras and underwear. Northborough resident Cathy Washburn and her daughter were inspired by the 2017 women’s march in Washington, DC. They decided they wanted to do something to empower women. They discovered the I Support the Girls (ISTG), a 501(c)(3) charity with 54 affiliates across the globe. Washburn became the Massachusetts Affiliate Director in January 2017. The focus is on enhancing women’s dignity and fighting for menstrual equity.
The total number of items donated in the first four years was 354,382. In 2020, 208,556 menstrual hygiene products alone were donated–a 35% increase in product requests due to the impact of the pandemic.
“The need is real and that is not going away,” said Washburn. “Homelessness is on the rise, and women should not have to choose between food and menstrual products. As every woman knows, your period does not stop for a pandemic.”
Partnerships and volunteers
Items are donated, often through a community sponsored drive. Washburn has networked with almost 40 homeless shelters, food pantries, schools, domestic violence safe houses, and transitional organizations across the state to provide these needed items.
Washburn could not do the work alone; she has a small group of dedicated volunteers. It is with their help that she was recognized for donating over 213,000 items in 2020 to women in need and received the Silver Tampon Award.
Transporting items statewide has been possible with her partnership with Westborough based Provision Ministry.
“People are making it happen where the state cannot reach,” she said. “The problem is at the street level. People are doing unbelievable work.”
She said being part of the organization has given her the opportunity to meet women and see the change you can make in someone’s life.
Goals for 2021
Washburn will continue to raise awareness of the need and the mission of ISTG. She hopes to start applying for grants and seeking corporate support. That initiative will also include more community outreach, including high schools and college campuses.
She said when people think about the need, especially women, it’s a moment of realization.
Once COVID restrictions are lifted, she also will continue to work with Girl Scout troops, who can earn a badge for personal hygiene education and assistance with packing donations.
Advocacy to make real change will be a priority. One area of change relates to the fact that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits do not currently cover the purchase of pads or tampons. In some states, these products are taxed.
Collect locally, donate locally is the goal.
New and gently used bras, new underwear and hygiene wipes are collected too.
“Bras are like gold,” Washburn said. “They are expensive, but you need a clean bra to stand tall and feel confident.”
Information on local collections and the best way to contact Washburn is through Facebook at I Support the Girls – Northborough MA. There is a Northborough hygiene product drive through the month of March. Items can be dropped at 26 Newton Street or order through an Amazon wish list with direct shipment.
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