Generosity Health People

Giving a little can help a lot


A group of “55 onwards” Dunedin women are donating a little each school term to buy sanitary products for schoolgirls in emergency situations.

“That’s not out of the way, and it’s not hurting us. Five dollars is nothing really if we can help some girls to feel normal,” says one of those involved, Jeanette Baker.

The items are given for students at a Dunedin girls’ state high school, which frees up money the school can then spend more directly on education.

A challenge to serve

Two years ago, Jeanette’s church held a challenge to serve the city for the month of September. She is a founding leader of one of its women’s groups, and started thinking how they could help others.

I thought, ‘what are we going to do, what are these old ladies going to do?’,” she recalls.

She’d read about Auckland schoolgirls not going to school during menstruation because they couldn’t afford tampons or other sanitary supplies. She later remembered someone at church was a local high school chaplain.

This chaplain confirmed there was a need and so since September 2016, between 10 and 12 group members have given about $5 each a term to alleviate this need.

A few in the group are aged in their 40s, however most are over 55 years. “Most of us are of the older side of the equation.”

Lending a helping hand: a Dunedin church’s women’s group (back, from left): Margaret Mitchell, Gill Necklen, Yvonne Harris, Winsome Goosselink. (Front, from left): Linda Homer, Mary-Anne Nikou, Faye McBain and Jeanette Baker

She had felt a little embarrassed when first suggesting the idea to the group, however group co-leader Margaret Mitchell says the suggestion “broke something” within the group.

“The barriers came down…we had a bit of a laugh after that.”

Most women experience menstruation and in that way are the same, Margaret says. People often want to help others, however she considers this is easier to do as a group.

“It might be only a small thing we’re doing, but we’re doing it and every small bit helps,” she says.

The school’s voluntary chaplain Helen Beamish says the all-girl school has students aged from 12½ to 18 years old.

Schools are not funded to supply sanitary products, however it costs lots of money when girls’ periods arrive unexpectedly, she says. Some girls also struggle to pay for sanitary items, although the school’s provision is for emergencies.

It’s a real expense that a school can’t ignore.”

Three times a year, the group gives Helen a large supermarket bag of tampons, panty liners and sanitary pads, which she leaves at the school office.

“The group has continued to be really faithful in doing it and being a blessing to the school,” Helen says.

A nationwide problem

In 2016, New Zealand media began reporting that the cost of sanitary items had resulted in menstruating women sometimes using newspapers or rags and missing university or school.

Last year the Government’s medicine-funding agency Pharmac declined a citizen’s application to subsidise these products, with Pharmac saying they didn’t treat a specific medical need.

An online foodbank partnership between Countdown supermarkets, The Salvation Army and creative agency Lucid has introduced a “Women’s Bundle”.

People can donate to this and items are distributed through The Salvation Army foodbanks.

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