Keeping girls in school, one tampon at a time

"I was kind of sick of my friends and I just sitting around saying, 'I wanna do something, I wanna change something!'"

Shelley Sleeper had no idea that some teenage girls skip school because they can't afford the feminine hygiene products they need.  But she knew she wanted to help - somehow.

"We were first going to do food." Sleeper says. "When you think of helping others, you always think food first."

"Do we want to get coats for kids, or food for kids?" adds Amy Plantenberg. "What can we do to empower women and girls?"

The women gathered a group of friends and started brainstorming.

"We have a doctor, an OB, on our team.  She was mentioning how there's a need for tampons." Sleeper says.  "I didn't know that one in five women couldn't afford tampons and were missing school or work because of it."

Plantenberg says the numbers are actually higher than that: one in four women and girls can't afford the feminine hygiene supplies they need.

"It was heartbreaking to us," she says.

From that heartbreak - rose a movement.  Sleeper says since August, Time To Box has raised hundreds of dollars and collected thousands of donated supplies for local schools.

"Even at the fish market, the guys were like, 'yeah, we'll put up your flyer!'" laughs Sleeper. "Every single person is willing and able to help...five extra dollars at the grocery store for another box of tampons isn't hurting them, and it's making a big difference for other kids."

South Lake High School nurse Amnah King spent years struggling to find a way to make sure students get the supplies they need.

"I actually really don't have a budget," she admits, "so we always have to get creative when it comes to ordering the supplies that I need for the students.  Pads and tampons are one of the main supplies that I need on a regular basis."

Even when a school budget stretches to those necessary supplies, it's not always an optimal situation.

"They don't want the larger pads, they want the ones that they can do sports in. They want the ones they can feel comfortable in; feel good," says Plantenberg.

King says that's exactly what students are getting from Time To Box.

"It's the good-quality pads and tampons," she says, "not the cheapy kind you get out of vending machines."

Washington is one of 35 states where feminine hygiene products are still taxed as "luxuries," while necessities like groceries and medication get a break.  Time To Box is working to change that, too.  But in the meantime, the tampon drives continue.

"We're going to pass a million, no problem." says Sleeper. "No problem!"

If you would like to get involved, you can find Time To Box at Magnolia Farmer's Market in Seattle, or you can purchase items on their Amazon wish list.