Volunteers have stepped up to help combat period poverty in New Zealand.

A survey by KidsCan last year found almost a quarter of people who responded had missed school or work because they were unable to afford sanitary items.

Nationwide more than 5,000 people took part in the survey, with 53 percent stated they had found it difficult to access menstrual products due to cost.

Co-founder of the new initiative, The Good Fund, Kimberli Schuitman said period poverty  affected people from all backgrounds and earning abilities without prejudice.

Over the course of a lifetime, a person could spend an average of $3000 on more than 9000 disposable menstrual products, she said.

“If they are not able to afford these products, they must ask for help, over and over, every single month. This can be soul destroying for those who live on the poverty line.”

Otago University Department of Public Health’s Dr Sarah Donovan said children in hardship could be particularly affected by period poverty.

“In households where money for basic necessities such as food is tight, we know that mothers often put their own needs last and ‘make do’.”

When people could not afford the products, most resorted to using toilet paper while others used rags, old cloths or nappies.

Dr Donovan said international research showed that menstruation was the most common reason for girls missing school.

“Menstrual items are basic necessities, and in an OECD country like New Zealand it is not acceptable that any school girl should struggle to afford these. The ability to manage menstruation safely and with dignity is critical to both physical and mental wellbeing.”

Schuitman said while reusable menstrual products saved money over their lifetime, one of the biggest barriers to accessing them was the initial cost.

“The initial setup cost can be high and depending on which product you prefer to use, can mean that access is just not possible for people struggling financially.”

Together with Emily Holdaway, Schuitman founded the charity The Good Fund.

People could apply to access the fund, which could then reimburse a percentage of the cost of reusable menstrual products purchased through the charity, Schuitman said.

“Irrespective of a person’s financial situation, they all deserve choice in their menstrual product solution and they deserve to be able to make that choice for themselves.”

Schuitman said for those that want to use sustainable menstrual products, The Good Fund had a range of reusable products people could choose from.

“While there are awesome initiatives out there providing some options to those in need, the plain truth is that menstrual cups are simply not the answer to every menstruating person’s problems. People deserve choice.”

Within the first month of operation the fund was emptied, with 100 people asking for help.

The fund was kickstarted with money raised from a fill-a-bag event Holdaway ran in Hamilton in March.

“The entire reason I did a baby clothes fill-a-bag is that I feel there are so many good quality baby clothes in circulation, that we can share them around and clothe our pēpi without having to pay hundreds of dollars to do so.”

A nationwide fill-a-bag fundraiser will be held from the Bay of Islands to Dunedin later this month to top up the fund, Holdaway said.

“A group of strangers, banding together to spend countless hours collecting and sorting donations of children’s clothing, to raise money so that people they don’t know, can have a choice about what menstrual solution they use. That’s bloody incredible. Choice even.”

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