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#HappyPeriod: an interview with Chelsea VonChaz

Mar. 9, 2018
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Meet Chelsea VonChaz, who co-founded #HappyPeriod with her mother, Cherryl Warner. #HappyPeriod is a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide menstrual hygiene products to the homeless and impoverished. This movement began for Chelsea when, stopped at a red light, she noticed a homeless woman walking around in bloodstained undergarments. She was on her period that day and realized how uncomfortable it would be to not have access to menstrual supplies. Chelsea researched the subject and found that while homeless shelters provide food, clothing, and other sundries, they are not required to provide pads or tampons. In February of 2015, Chelsea and her friends held the very first #HappyPeriod gathering, where they passed out kits to homeless women in Downtown Los Angeles. Now, two years later, #HappyPeriod has chapters across the U.S., and has worked with companies such as CVS, Kotex, and Thinx to bring much-needed supplies to those who cannot afford them.

According to your website, menstrual supplies are not required to be included in the operations budget for homeless shelters. They also cannot be purchased with food stamps. Why do you believe such a necessity for half of the population is overlooked?

I blame the taboo and stigma [surrounding] menstruation for this. Because we are shamed for having periods, and we therefore feel uncomfortable with them in personal aspects. We don’t talk about periods, and we’ve been conditioned to think of menstruation negatively. So why would anyone think to donate pads and tampons to shelters? That dangerous mindset of “it’s a women’s problem” affects the most vulnerable people with periods all over Earth.

Your online shop features tees printed with the phrase “Hello, I’m Menstruating.” in both feminine and unisex cuts. This bold, unapologetic phrase encourages the wearer to be #PeriodPositive. What does it mean to be #PeriodPositive?

To be #PeriodPositive means to be a proud bleeder! Whether you love your period or hate it, you can be positive about menstruation in some particular way. It also means to experience your period without shame. I believe promoting #PeriodPositive contributes to the shift that [is] happening right now with periods being in our consciousness and also in the media. Now, we see women embracing their bodies, embracing their blood, sharing period stories, creating period art, and so much more!

How does a homeless or impoverished trans or nonbinary person experience their period differently than a homeless or impoverished cisgender woman?

Discrimination follows the impoverished trans bleeder like a dark cloud. I’m not cognizant of the experience of a nonbinary person; however, I can imagine the traumatic encounters one would have to deal with. I’m not trans or nonbinary, [but] as a black female in this country I can relate to having unreasonably hostile behavior and feelings projected toward me.

How does social media play a role in #HappyPeriod?

Social media is the blood of #HappyPeriod . . . all puns intended! Social media gives life to our marketing and [advertising] goals. I haven't spent any money on advertisement for the organization, because we have a great community that was built solely off of socials. It continues to work for us!

Could you tell us about the companies that have partnered with #HappyPeriod and how they contribute to the cause?

Cora supported our Hurricane Harvey relief with a donation of 75,000 tampons. CVS and Kotex donated about $12,000 worth of product right before the end of 2017. To commemorate International Women’s Day this year, Thinx contributed 1,000 pairs of period-proof undies and is partnering with us on a fundraiser through Facebook! The fundraiser will help expand our mission internationally, as we're planning a new program that will support periods in Belize, Haiti, and Jamaica.

What goes into one kit from #HappyPeriod, and about how many days does it last the receiver? 

Pads, tampons, liners, soap, and underwear. The point of the array of items is so the recipient has options, just like when shopping for products at a store. The amount is based on what we receive in donations—however, it must be enough for one period of five days of bleeding. We definitely go extra on the liners, because those can be used for the other days and to keep underwear clean.

What do those in need do without these supplies when “that time of the month” arrives?

They take drastic measures and make some unfair decisions. They may use hazardous items like socks, plastic bags, newspaper, or even potato chip bags to stuff in their bottoms to create a pad-like lining. I have the honor of hearing personal stories from some of them. No one should have to decide between food or a pad, or their baby’s diaper versus a box of tampons.

How can readers best contribute to your cause?

Truthfully, the best way for readers to contribute to my cause is to speak out loud about their periods. If you can purchase an extra box of pads, please do so. There’s someone, somewhere that would trade places with you. Never forget that.