Destigmatizing periods one pantry at a time 

Story by: Mallory Pace

Around 1.8 billion people across the globe menstruate each month, according to the National Institute of Health, yet a staggering 500 million experience period poverty. Jacksonville local and reproductive justice advocate, Alyx Carrasquel, has taken action into her own hands by creating Jax Period Pantries to give back to the people in her community. Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products, hygienic facilities, waste management and education. 

What began as a blossoming idea and growing passion for reproductive rights turned into a tangible contribution for Carrasquel as she now manages and stocks two period pantries across downtown Jacksonville. Inside the eye-catching storage spaces, the public is free to take its contents, which include a variety of pads, tampons, liners and more, depending on stock. One is located outside of The Walrus, a vegan restaurant in Murray Hill. Another was recently set up outside of Cultivate and Femme Fire Books in Riverside.  

After creating an Instagram page in search of help from the community, she received enough products to start the first pantry. From there, she set out to find a location or business that would welcome her idea, and The Walrus happily agreed. The owner suggested putting it in a small nook just outside, so Carrasquel got to work building the custom pantry, where it now comfortably resides.  

As an advocate for reproductive health, Carrasquel isn’t naive to the fact that these products should be accessible and affordable. She said that these products are wrongfully seen as a luxury, despite being a basic, essential need for half of the world’s population.  

“Since lawmakers are not doing what they’re supposed to, mutual aid is what comes next,” she said. “We only have one another, which is one of the reasons why I decided to start the pantry. And I couldn’t be doing this without all the support that I’ve received.” 

Without access to affordable menstrual products, people are left to either make-shift their own or misuse them, like leaving them in for longer than recommended. Amy Howell is a women’s health nurse practitioner at the University of North Florida and she explained that the most common risks associated with misusing products are yeast infections, which can occur if someone is unable to change their products regularly.  

Other risks include urinary tract infections, bleeding through clothing, or worse, toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal complication of certain bacterial infections, and is most commonly seen in people who leave tampons in for too long.  

The stigma around periods significantly contributes to a person’s inability to receive help with their menses. A 2021 study from State of the Period, found that 76% of students say there is a negative association that periods are gross and unsanitary and 65% agree that society teaches people to be ashamed of their periods. Despite being a normal bodily function, people often feel shame or embarrassment to ask for help obtaining products or regulating their menstrual cycle.  

“Periods are not dirty, and one of the ways we can advocate to the stigmatized is just talking positively about periods,” Carrasquel said. “There’s no shame in having a period, and there’s also no shame in needing products for it.” 

Echoing, Howell said that while we have come a long way with destigmatizing periods and accessing products, there is still a long way to go.  

“Women still don’t feel that they can talk about this or access support or products that they need because of that stigma of there being something embarrassing or shameful about menstruation, which is really just fundamentally flawed,” she said. 

Increasing awareness and education about periods and its supplies is crucial to making menstrual products and services the basic healthcare necessity that it is. Carrasquel’s Instagram page, @Jaxperiodpantry remains an informative resource for education and support. Information on donations and more can be found on the Instagram page as well.  

As a community, it’s important to be there for one another and provide the help everyone deserves. We could all take a page from Carrasquel’s book and be the helping hand for others, one pantry at a time.