When Lilly Thompson presented her first Period Project donation to Massac County High School back in March, she probably didn't anticipate what the next four months would bring.
The school lesson turned community service project is impacting more than Massac County as it catapults into Phase 2.
Now, Lilly is looking to further the project at MCHS. As the new year begins, she'll be installing a product dispenser and has committed to supplying feminine hygiene products for the entire school year. To make that goal happen, she'll be holding a product drive July 26 through Aug. 6.
Product donations — pads and tampons, along with pencil bags and Ipsy bags to create kits — and monetary donations will be collected during that two-week period at Frosted by Mollie, located at 615 E. Fifth St. in Metropolis, and at Kirchhoff's Bakery, located at 118 Market House Square in Paducah.
“It would help so many local girls in our community stay in school,” Lilly said. “Many people don't think of pads and tampons for a back-to-school item, when in reality, so many girls miss school for not having access to them.”
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Lilly is the 11-year-old daughter of Christopher and Rebecca Thompson, of Metropolis, formerly of Florida. As a homeschooled fifth-grader, Lilly's health class began steering toward puberty and feminine hygiene, and the topic brought up questions. But not quite the ones her mom expected.
“During this lesson, we came across some alarming statistics about period poverty in the U.S. I always assumed the one in five teens that didn't have access to feminine products was for Third World places,” Rebecca said.
According to www.actionaid.org.uk: “Period poverty is a global issue affecting women and girls who don't have access to safe, hygienic sanitary products, and/or who are unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigma and sanction.”
Lilly learned that while one in five teens — or three in five depending on the area — struggle to afford period products or have not been able to purchase them at all, four in five teens have missed class due to the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. It's a struggle with a domino effect ranging from access to meals, to being bullied, to body shaming, to serious infections.
“There are girls who need a little more help with it because they couldn't afford it,” Lilly said.
So she decided to start Period Project Team Thompson Homeschool.
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Toward the end of the 2020-21 school year, the Thompsons took starter kits and cycle kits to Joppa Junior/Senior High School and Century Junior/Senior High School. For Joppa, “it was perfect timing,” Rebecca said. “They were completely out when we dropped the kits off. The ones we brought were sent home with the girls to get them through the summer.”
The Century drop-off allowed “Lilly the chance to educate,” her mother continued. “The nurse at first was upset the girls are always ask her for items, like they can't remember. Lilly reminded her that they’re young and a cycle takes a year to become regular. Once she got that, she was more understanding and excited to have the kits, especially the starter kits because a lot of girls start for the first time while at school.”
Paducah Tilghman High School is set to receive the kits on Aug. 6.
“Tilghman had 30 confirmed homeless students last year. They aren’t sure how many they'll have this year,” Rebecca said. “They'll be passing the kits out to those students so they know they'll be good for the first month of school.”
But in their process of planning, Rebecca said Tilghman officials realized they don't know which staff member helps in such instances, “so they're addressing that issue for the school as a whole. It was exciting for Lilly to be able to bring up the concern.”
While MCHS has kit containers in its bathrooms since Lilly's initial presentation, the Thompsons hope to install the Period Project dispenser there near the beginning of the upcoming school year. The plexiglass box made by Christopher Thompson will be able to hold any donated feminine hygiene product, as Rebecca noted, quarter machines take specific brands. They plan to add other dispensers after seeing how the initial one works.
“Massac is super excited about this project and jumped at replying yes for more support,” Rebecca said.
While Lilly is committed to keeping MCHS supplied with products this school year, and hopes to add Joppa to that list next year, she also wants to add more schools to the Period Project.
“The July 26 through Aug. 6 product drive is Lilly's big step in making this go forward,” Rebecca said. “Lilly has been working hard the past months on this project and has high goals for herself. She wants to help at least five more schools this year and support MCHS all year. This period drive is her next phase to get the word out about the need and educate others on this subject. Many think pencils and paper for back to school but never about what other basic items girls need.”
Rebecca said they've gotten feedback from girls who have benefited from the Period Project about what would work or fit better, so they've begun creating kits with light, regular and super options in teen sizes “so they'll be able to grab what they need for them and it will help them better. We've even started getting organic products.”
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In the short time since Lilly began the Period Project, she's also become an inspiration — her friends in Florida are using it as their Girl Scout Silver Award project, and two other girls have start their own Period Projects.
That influence is further inspiring Lilly. Her goal this year is to reach three other counties in Illinois, two out-of-state schools and inspire two more girls to start Period Projects in their communities.
But even as she works on Phase 2, Lilly is reaching toward Phase 3.
She wants to become a non-profit.
“She's been reaching every goal she sets for herself, and at this point, if she has the 501(c)(3), it would make things easier for her as far as donations,” Rebecca said. “A lot of businesses want to help, but we can't offer them a tax form, so it turns them away. Her ultimate goal is to get the machines in the bathrooms, which means we need more cash flow, so we're trying to figure out what we need to do to make that (non-profit status) happen.”
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Along with the upcoming product drive, there are several ways to assist the Period Project.
Products can be purchased through the Amazon link — www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3BMVDYJ9X7O2Y?ref_=wl=share — and directly from the Thompsons. Monetary donations are accepted through PayPal at email@example.com. A GoFundMe account can be linked through Lilly's FaceBook page — Period Project Team Thompson Homeschool.
Rebecca can be reached at the email or 912-547-8740 for further information on how to assist with the project. Ladies who no longer need their feminine products can donate them to the project or to local schools.
“We're excited to try to help more people,” Rebecca said.