Little Free Libraries pop up all around the region; so do Little Free Food Pantries. But a new type of pantry in a Northern Virginia town is helping to fill a need for women and girls.
The Free Period Pantry, on Maple Avenue in Vienna, has been providing free tampons and pads to those in need since September, and it’s the creation of three James Madison High School students.
Ariyanna Ghala, Isabel Buescher and Ramsey Warner, all 14 and who are also Girl Scouts with Troop 6833 USA Nation’s Capital, worked on the project for almost a year for the Silver Award — the organization’s highest award, given for projects intended to have a lasting impact on the community.
The pantry works much like the Little Free Food Pantry which sits right next to it on the Emmaus United Church of Christ property in Vienna. Products such as pads and tampons are donated and then put in the pantry for those who are in need.
Ghala came up with the idea after seeing the prices of period products. “We were looking through stores and realizing how expensive these products were, and this was our idea of how to solve this growing problem,” she said.
The three teenagers also discovered that for some in the community, it’s not just about cost but access.
“Period products are a necessity that has been overlooked,” Warner said. “It is expensive and it is health care, so I think it is important that a lot of people have it — so that’s why we built the pantry.”
Ghala said, “Not having access to these products just was crazy to us, because we understand how vital they are.”
Warner said they weren’t sure how popular the pantry would be, since it was a new concept, but the shelves empty as fast as they’re filled up: “It just goes to show that a lot of people needed this.”
Advocates for women have brought period equity to the fore as the cost of tampons and pads skyrocketed during the pandemic, adding to what’s known as the pink tax — higher costs for products used by women.
The teenagers also designed and constructed the pantry, and petitioned the church to use its property. The girls said they worked almost every weekend for a month learning how to use power tools to build it with the lumber they worked to get donated.
Isabel Buescher’s mother, Heather, who has experience with power tools and woodcraft, worked as the project adviser. “I took them under my wing and taught them how to measure and cut wood properly,” she said — “how to put it together, how to drill holes, countersink screws, so they could have the final product.”
The teenagers say they learned many other skills.
“We were able to practice leadership and communication and collaboration skills, all of which the Girls Scouts aim to teach the kids,” Ghala said.
The three teens hope that the pantry will continue to be around for a long time, providing free products for women and girls who need them. Isabel Buescher added that they hope “more people learn about how much they cost and why they are needed and how it’s hard for people to get them.”
You can buy items for the Free Period Pantry on their Amazon wish list.