Words by Su Ertekin-Taner
Alyx Carrasquel wasn’t surprised when I told her an estimated 500 million people lack access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities (according to worldbank.com). As a 27-year-old reproductive justice advocate, she expected as much, citing the stigma around periods and absence of legislation making period products free as the cause of this period poverty.
But Carrasquel doesn’t want period poverty, defined as menstruators’ struggle to access and afford menstrual hygiene products, to be a universally accepted truth. She wants change.
For the local activist, combating period poverty begins with community care and conversation. It was this fervor for starting a community-wide effort that led her to found the Jax Period Pantry initiative this July.
The initiative, which began as an Instagram account, aims to educate about menstrual health via informative posts and provide community resources for those suffering from period poverty. Carrasquel outlined her two-pronged approach: “I talk about periods in a positive way. and I make sure that people have the items that they need, so that it’s normalized.”
Inherent in this approach was Carrasquel’s desire to make the Jax Period Pantry available to all menstruators. According to American University, period poverty disproportionately impacts low-income households, prompting Carrasquel to note that removing stigma around periods and period poverty begins with open and equal access to products. “It doesn’t matter what financial demographic they’re coming from. I don’t care if you’re rich. I don’t care if you have no means or anything,” she said. “I just want people to know that the products are there.”
Carrasquel’s devotion to reproductive justice and period destigmatization first began with a robust education and openness from her family. “I’ve been exposed to — age appropriate always — [reproductive] education and information and from a young age. I knew that reproductive rights were the bare minimum and that people should have the access to anything they choose for themselves. That needs to include menstrual hygiene [tools] as well,” she added.
A young Carrasquel did not know that education would inspire her to go on to work full time in reproductive health. Carrasquel now works as coordinator of the Florida Access Network, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing reproductive rights. In her free time, she promotes reproductive justice on her personal social media and continues her education on the topic. By virtue of Carrasquel’s background, the Jax Period Pantry initiative was ripe for establishing.
Carrasquel started the cause’s Instagram page and Amazon wishlist in June. “I posted about my idea and what I would need from the community in order to make it happen,” she said, adding, “It sucks that it’s necessary but at the same time, it is necessary. It’s the reality and, you know, somebody’s got to do it.”
The post was succinct in its message — “period products should be free” — and branded with Carrasquel’s signature “Love + Access.” The Jacksonville community picked up Carrasquel’s message of period destigmatization and passed it along via Instagram stories and direct messages. She began to ramp up the initiative’s social media efforts, posting more frequently about period myths and sex education practices. Soon, donations for menstrual hygiene products and containers flooded the Jax Period Pantry founder’s inbox. The project received further social media traction from Carrasquel’s interview with News4Jax.
As Carrasquel’s friends and Jax Period Pantry followers began financially chipping away at her wish list of products — pads of all sizes, tampons, sanitary wipes, disposable flex discs, containers, labels, black bags to carry products — Carrasquel chipped away at her task of building the first period pantry from scratch. The project (the cabinet itself and the colorful icons painted on its exterior) took a day and a half. Now, the organization’s first pantry lives on the side of The Walrus in Murray Hill.
The current stream of seemingly never-ceasing donations finances bimonthly restocks of products and even some items like bins for an upcoming pantry in Springfield. But it’s the spigot of community passion for ending period poverty that never seems to be off. “It [the support] has been beautiful, and it makes me really happy to see people in the community wanting to be a part of something that, you know, it’s so necessary. It takes a village at the end of the day. I couldn’t do this alone. I’m not doing this alone,” Carrasquel said.
While Carrasquel receives financial and social media support, she maintains the pantry herself, checking in on her creation every other day. “I’m really bad at asking for help,” she explained.
Even as a one-woman show, the fundraiser, activist, and amateur builder-painter’s Jax Period Pantry initiative is promoting visibility for all women’s reproductive and menstrual health issues one pantry at a time. One post at a time. One product at a time.