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Each week, Lynette Medley and her daughter Nya deliver about 250 period supply care packages to women and girls across the Delaware Valley.
The duo gave out nearly 2 million menstrual products last year, mostly on their own. Now they’re taking the effort to the next level. Medley, who runs a sexuality empowerment nonprofit called No More Secrets: Mind Body Spirit, is opening a 2,500 square-feet “menstrual hub” in Germantown.
“If you had asked me probably seven months ago, I wouldn’t think this would be coming to fruition,” Medley told Billy Penn, “but I’ve been guided by my community.”
Called The SPOT Period, the location will open next weekend, on Saturday, Feb. 20. SPOT stands for “safety programming for optimal transformation,” and its goal is to reduce what Medley calls period poverty.
Along with feminine necessities, the space at 4811 Germantown Ave. will provide a luxury that Medley said many of the families she serves don’t have access to: working toilets.
“Half of our population, sometimes they don’t have ongoing utilities, they don’t have running water, toilets do not work effectively.” Medley said. “These are populations that, really, let’s be honest, a lot of them use public bathrooms for things that they need to take care of.”
Reliable running water takes on a special meaning for teenage girls and women on their periods. The matter is compounded, Medley said, by the societal shame and secrecy associated with the very normal experience of menstruation.
“So even being able to navigate that process when you have a menstrual cycle is just horrific in and of itself,” Medley said.
The ambitious venture is so far being paid for by crowdfunding and donations, with no grants or government aid as yet. A GoFundMe has raised $24k so far out of a $120k goal.
Is that enough to sustain the hub?
“Definitely not,” Medley said. “But I figured once you build it, they will come.”
The luxury of running water and a working toilet
Poverty is one obvious obstacle to running water for families in the nation’s poorest big city. But Robert Ballenger, an attorney and co-director of the energy unit at Community Legal Services, said that’s only part of the picture.
More than 63k Philadelphia households could have had their water turned off for unpaid bills as of Dec. 31, if not for the COVID-related moratorium on shutoffs, said Ballenger, who works to help individuals and small businesses get their utilities restored, and organizes groups to advocate against utility price hikes.
Two more of the most prevalent water insecurity risk factors, Ballenger found, come from expensive plumbing repairs and lack of homeownership.
For renters or home occupants — people living in houses of deceased relatives, for example — families may be unable to access Philly’s Tiered Assistance Program because they’re not the property owners. Called TAP, the program adjusts billing so that families who live below 150% of the federal poverty level pay no more than 2.5% to 3% of their monthly income toward utilities.
But, said Ballenger, “If you can’t get [your name on the bill], you can’t get in TAP.”
A similar issue arises when it comes to pricey plumbing repairs often needed to support the city’s aging infrastructure. Philly employs cost assistance initiatives like the Basic Systems Repair Program or zero-interest loans from the water department. Those programs, though, are usually just for deed-holders.
Info, counseling and community support along with supplies
In addition to a stock of free feminine hygiene products, The SPOT will provide resources and counseling about uterine care, menstrual hygiene and health. Medley also wants to introduce sustainable period products, like menstrual cups.
An on-site computer lab will be stocked with three machines while the “Breonna Taylor Safe Room” will provide a space for Black, Brown and other marginalized women to decompress, “because we understand being Black female in America isn’t the most safe identity,” Medley said.
Goldenrod Transportation, a rideshare service in Philly, Bucks and Montgomery counties, will be providing reentry services to women who’ve been incarcerated or affected by incarceration.
In the age of COVID-19, the hub will be open on a rotating basis to no more than 10 women and girls at a time. Clients are strongly encouraged to pre-register online, will be provided masks if needed, and will undergo on-site temperature checks.
Medley calls period poverty — defined as lack of access to proper period care, hygiene and products — an epidemic. She launched the #BlackGirlsBleed social movement, and has earned more than 2k signatures in a Change.org petition supporting federal menstrual access legislation.
Though No More Secrets’ mission is to destigmatize sexuality and remove the taboo around related topics, the nonprofit isn’t just a period advocacy organization. Medley said the menstrual hub came in direct response to a need.
In general, No More Secrets teaches children as young as five (“5 to 105,” Medley says) about consent by identifying body parts anatomically correctly, for example.
Medley has a background in counseling around dependency and child welfare, and facilitates group counseling and education classes for parents, churches and schools. Her organization provides one on one mentorship and open community conversations with the goal of fostering healthy sexual identity and understanding before crisis strikes.
When the coronavirus crisis struck, the population to which No More Secrets caters expanded.
Medley’s hope is that by launching The SPOT, community members and donors will see that the need is there and will work to help sustain the hub.
“When you create a space for people,” Medley said, “that’s going to be so revolutionary for so many people that have been suffering.”