PHILADELPHIA – When Lynette Medley and her daughter, Nya McGlone, began delivering free menstrual products door-to-door in Philadelphia three years ago, they did so at night, to respect the privacy of those they served.
But as word of their mission to end period poverty spread and menstruators across the city began to benefit from their work, something incredible happened.
“People started to ask us to take pictures with them for Instagram,” Medley said. “Now it’s like ‘The Pad Ladies are here! Here they come!’”
The comfort and compassion Medley, 51, and McGlone, 29, bring to discussions about menstruation and period poverty helps those they serve feel more comfortable talking about menstruation, too.
“I think the difference in our approach is that we provide dignity to our communities. We do not give them pity because in my mind we should not have to do this work,” Medley said, tearing up. “I cry because I can’t believe this is something they have to ask for, to beg for — a pad or a tampon.”
After years of running their nonprofit — No More Secrets: Mind Body Spirit, Inc. — out of Medley’s therapy office and the trunk of her car, this weekend McGlone and Medley were set to open The SPOT Period in Germantown. It is believed to be the nation’s first menstrual hub.
Entirely funded through community donations, The SPOT (which stands for Safety Programming for Optimal Transformation) offers an array of services including free menstrual and hygiene products, educational resources and seminars, access to clean water and toilets, a computer room, first period kits, and a Breonna Taylor safe room for “marginalized women to escape the dangers of the world.”
Most of all, it’s a safe and welcoming space to have authentic conversations about menstrual hygiene and uterine care.
“It feels like home,” McGlone said of the sprawling 2,500-square-foot space, which is awash with bright colors and pastels, decorated with paintings of young Black women and inspirational quotes, and filled to the brim with every type of menstrual product imaginable, from reusable cloth pads and cups to disposable tampons and panty liners.
Shawana Moore, director of Jefferson University’s Women’s Health-Gender Related Nurse Practitioner Program and an academic partner of No More Secrets, said she hasn’t come across another menstrual hub model in the United States like this within available literature. But she wasn’t surprised Medley and McGlone were able to create one and fund it through community donations.
“They are engaged and in tune with their community,” Moore said. “They have it, they just do. It’s a very selfless thing that they do and I think that most people who encounter them see that, specifically.”
Period poverty is not only inadequate access to menstrual products and resources, but also includes a lack of access to clean water and waste management services, like toilets.
“You usually hear about it internationally because of lack of access to clean water, but we pay for water here and many people’s toilets don’t work,” Medley said. “It’s a conversation about privileges and the realities of the situations.”
Medley and McGlone, who both grew up in West Philly, faced period poverty themselves at one point.
“We went from a middle-class family to having insecurities with finances and emotional insecurity with the incarceration of my ex-husband,” Medley said. “When people want to help, you don’t mind when they say ‘Let me help you with food,’ but nobody wants to articulate that conversation about not having access to menstrual products.”
Despite her own experience, years later after Medley became a sexuality awareness educator and counselor, she was shocked to hear a young client tell her she was using stuffed animals and socks during her cycle because she didn’t have access to menstrual products.
“What bothered me was that this was OK in her mind, this is what we do,” she said. “I started asking others and realized this was going on in our community with other people and nobody is talking about it.”
Medley discovered there weren’t resources for people to get free, ongoing supplies of menstruation products and they weren’t covered under government-assistance programs.
So she created her own program.
In 2017, Medley and her daughter began a menstrual product bank in Medley’s therapy office in Chestnut Hill. They supplied the products at first, but when McGlone started social media accounts detailing their work, community donations began pouring in.
But for some facing period poverty, a bus fare to Chestnut Hill wasn’t possible.
“When I created the bank, my community was like ‘That’s really cute, but how are we getting to you?’” Medley said.
And that’s how their delivery service began.
Before COVID-19 hit, the women did about 80 deliveries a week, mostly to people who found them through their website and social media, but during the pandemic deliveries have soared to about 285 a week.
To brighten their own spirits, Medley and McGlone, who love Disney World, began wearing their Disney gear — including matching Minnie Mouse ears — on all of their deliveries. While the work is rewarding, it’s also emotionally taxing. Sometimes they weep in their car after seeing the deep poverty those they serve are forced to live in and they’re moved to tears by the gratitude they receive.
“Let me tell you, this is why we do what we do,” McGlone said. “People be so appreciative they be crying. This is why we keep doing the work.”
In September, Medley made a vow to her daughter: If they raised $10,000 on their GoFundMe by the end of the year, she would find a way to open up a menstrual hub. On New Year’s Eve, they hit $10,101.
In addition to crowdfunding and product donations, The SPOT Period received a $4,500 grant from The Pad Project and L., and a $5,000 grant for the Breonna Taylor room from DivaCares, which is also donating 200 reusable DivaCups every month to the hub.
“We are grateful to be working with an inspiring group of women and change-makers who are deeply committed to ending period poverty and increasing communal resources for people across Philadelphia,” said DivaCup CEO and cofounder Carinne Chambers-Saini.
State Rep. Joanna McClinton, a longtime supporter of Medley and McGlone, said they are “true sources of light” who’ve done this work without the support or infrastructure many other nonprofits receive.
“I am so excited that this hub will bring hope,” McClinton said. “I think knowing someone cares enough to make this the focal point of this type of hub will remove the stigma and the shame.”
Moore, their academic partner, agreed, and said she hopes to see the hub model replicated internationally.
“We know menstrual inequity exists, but it’s not usually a topic many people talk about, unfortunately. Their mission brought light to that,” she said. “They normalize the conversation, which is important, because society doesn’t do so.”
Medley and McGlone will continue their deliveries. They’re hoping for a van one day to support their on-the-ground work, so they can service even more people.
“When we started, we had no idea where we were going to go and how it would manifest into being,” Medley said. “Everything happened because of our community.”
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