ROCKVILLE, Md. — It’s what you don’t see on the shelves in this warehouse that gets Dana Marlowe fired up.
“I could do a dance on the shelf; it's so vacant,” she said.
Marlowe is founder and executive director of the nonprofit I Support The Girls.
“We are a nonprofit that focuses on providing basic items around dignity, specifically menstrual hygiene products,” she explained.
The nonprofit distributes those products to homeless and domestic violence shelters. During normal times, the warehouse at their Rockville, Maryland, headquarters would be stocked to the rafters.
These are not normal times.
“The shelves where tampons used to be are now empty,” Marlowe said. “And I think tampons are just one of those unique items that have been economically hit hard because of supply chain issues.”
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the words “supply chain issues” have become shorthand for “not available.” However, when someone needs period products, “not available” is not an option.
That’s where I Support The Girls usually comes in to help, but lately, that’s become increasingly difficult.
“We've had a couple hiccups with the supply chain, whether we were trying to receive products that were being donated from manufacturers from overseas or more recently with tampons,” she said.
Now, along with the supply chain, there is another pressure: inflation.
“We saw some prices just in the last few weeks where a typical box of standard, your over-the-counter pharmacy tampons, going for $50, $60, $70,” Marlowe said. “These tampons are not made of gold. These are not tampons that are going to suddenly do your laundry. They're just inflated at such an egregious rate.”
Since 2015, the more than 50 chapters around the country of I Support The Girls donated 19 million products to more than 3,600 social services agencies.
This year is different, though. Donations of period products are down 50% compared to this time last year and down 67% from 2020.
“If there's less being given to us, we can only donate what we receive,” Marlowe said.
Even smaller nonprofits are getting hit hard, too.
“This will last us, most likely, less than a month,” said John Voorhees, with Manna Ministry in Virginia, as he motioned to a mostly empty shelf. “We’re trying to help these women out for 40 days, so the women out there can see there really is not that much there.”
Back at the I Support The Girls warehouse, Dana Marlowe is hoping more donations come in soon, especially as they face back-to-school time and students in need.
“Particularly girls in middle school and high school can continue to get their education,” she said, “and not miss math class or science because they have their period.”