LOS ANGELES -- Periods are a natural, often uncomfortable and complex time of the month when pads, tampons or other alternatives are necessary.
Around the world, there are millions who don't have access to these products. It's called "period poverty."
"We are all about providing safe period products to folks in need, and we're all about educating folks about periods," said Chelsea VonChaz, founder of Happy Period.
Chelsea VonChaz was working in fashion when an encounter with a woman experiencing homelessness took her on a quest for menstrual equity.
"She was free-bleeding, and I could tell because she crossed the street and I saw a big period stain on the back of her butt," said VonChaz. "I had a lot of questions. The main thing was, yah know, I was just thinking like if you are homeless, or if you're living on the street, if you do get your period, then what do you do?"
Around the country, period poverty affects those who are unhoused, incarcerated, and students. Period products cannot be purchased with food stamps and, according to Period Equity's scoreboard, 30 states in the U.S. currently tax period products.
"Tampons, pads, liners, menstrual cups, even period panties are taxed," said VonChaz.
In California, there's a temporary exemption on this tax until 2023.
VonChaz founded Happy Period to ensure anyone who needs a period product has it. This is a mission she carries out alongside supporters like Rael, a company that sells alternative period products.
Rael's CEO and co-founder, Yanghee Paik, says they've donated about 3,000 pads to Happy Period since 2019 through packing events and social media initiatives.
"We had this mission in our mind that we wanted to help other women," said Paik. "We've been learning from a lot of the partners and organizations that there are all these women who have been victims of domestic violence and also young children who don't have access to free lunches and also free sanitary pads because of the pandemic."
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Paik was born in South Korea where she was working in the movie industry while VonChaz is originally from Alabama. Their purpose and paths collided here in Los Angeles.
"I think it's important for any company to give back," VonChaz said. "And so specifically with Rael, this being an amazing Korean woman who has, you know, decided to make organic, safe products herself, and to partner up with us to be able to provide these products to folks in need. I mean I think that's just beautiful."
Happy Period donates to shelters, access centers, transition halls, and schools; however, VonChaz explains that getting funding as a Black-serving and Black-led organization has been an ongoing challenge.
"It's normalized for nonprofit organizations to be Black-serving and to actually receive the support that they need, but I find that it's quite difficult when you are Black-serving in a Black-led organization," said VonChaz.
The pandemic has added hurdles to distribution, but still VonChaz is resilient and innovative. Happy Period just reached its sixth anniversary and this week it will install a vending machine in Compton that dispenses free period products. The nonprofit also has also expanded a digital menstrual health program.
"We're able to support parents, teachers, anybody with a period that wants to know more about how menstruation actually works and what they can do to actually have a happy period," added VonChaz.