• Catherine Zhang

Our vision: Equal Access to Menstrual Hygiene Products

By Coleen Sykes-Ray, Founder, Executive Director of Bags of Hope Stockton

Low income women suffer a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards, which correlate with high rates of chronic diseases associated with poor feminine hygiene.  Poor women who face challenges accessing sanitary supplies reuse materials, often do not wash as needed, and may leave materials for absorption on for too long, creating health risks.

Health Risks Lead to More Serious Complications

Some health problems that come from this include toxic shock syndrome, reproductive tract infections, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and bacterial skin infections.

Kismet Baldwin, a health officer with San Joaquin Public Health Services advises “all of these conditions require medical treatment and when left untreated can progress to even more serious complications. 

“Women who are not able to access clean sanitary products may worry about things like smell, and stains from leaking blood, which then can affect their ability to feel comfortable interacting with others in the community. The overall lack of feminine hygiene during menstruation can exacerbate these health risks, can trigger mental health issues, and increase susceptibility to discrimination putting women at a higher risk for mortality.”

Bags of Hope Stockton Foundation administered surveys and led focus groups with women who received services between 2017 and 2018. Our research has determined that women who live in poverty, low income, median income, and or homeless cannot afford basic menstrual hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary napkins. According to over 500 women surveyed in our study nearly two thirds reported that they have a problem obtaining menstrual hygiene products every month and often use what is available to them. Many stated having used unsanitary materials such as cloth rags, toilet paper, paper towels and even diapers.

Period Products a Necessity

Period products are not luxury items; this is a need that can affect a woman’s sense of self, her dignity and her ability to participate in life. Products such as tampons and sanitary napkins are not covered by government programs such as WIC and SNAP benefits and given the option between food and period products nearly half of the women surveyed admitted that food purchases were more important.

Also reported was the fact that many products are taxed higher. Making matters worse, transportation to stores that sell products in bulk at lower prices are out of reach for majority of our clients. Our findings highlight that discrimination and inequities are not just found in affluent areas but are seen in every demographic that was surveyed.

Shaping Policy and Providing Supplies

Our team is working hard to help shape health policies that treat menstrual health hygiene products more like basic public health necessities. 

Bags of Hope relies on donations to provide Menstrual Hygiene Survival Kits. We offer several different kits, depending on the demographic we are serving.

Our basic kits includes:

  • Sanitary Napkins

  • Tampons

  • Feminine Wipes

  • Feminine Wash

  • Deodorant

  • Lotion

  • Chapstick

  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste

  • Granola

  • Chocolate

  • Small Bottle Of Water

  • Scripture Card

Healthier Supplies Needed

Flex cups and incontinence supplies are also offered in kits that Bags of Hope currently provides.

Research shows that many of today’s menstrual and vaginal care products contain a host of chemicals that may cause cancer, disrupt hormones, or cause unnecessary allergic reactions. Bags of Hope tries to provide the healthiest alternatives possible to necessary supplies to keep people safe and healthy.

It is our goal to provide equal access to menstrual hygiene products in addition to accessibility to safe products, and education on reproductive health.

Click here to donate directly to Bags of Hope, or here to purchase products from uterUS for the organization.

For more information, please check out Bags of Hope Stockton’s website:


We also encourage you to learn more about Coleen Sykes-Ray and Bags of Hope Stockton through this 2019 interview: https://bit.ly/2ZlPjMN

About the Author and Bags of Hope:

Coleen Sykes-Ray created the Bags of Hope ministry in 2016.

Their mission is to provide under-served women and school aged-girls education on puberty, menstrual hygiene, and menopause, as well as access to feminine hygiene products.

After a crazy trip to the Tahoe National Forest where they were utterly un-prepared for the extreme cold conditions and a friend's unexpected menstrual cycle, Coleen and her friend talked about the homeless women in the community and the types of items they must use when they are caught un-prepared. After that trip, Coleen and her daughter decided to do a little research, and Bags of Hope was born.

The first time they went out the response was overwhelming. The team did not expect to find so many women living in tents and extremely poor conditions. They encountered many women who had lost hope, some even walking around in blood-stained pants. Bags of Hope made it their mission to restore dignity and hope through one bag at a time. Their goal is to provide a warm embrace, a hot meal and quality items that women in need don't necessarily receive on a regular basis. Since Bags of Hopes inception, Coleen and her team have given out more than 5,000 sanitary napkins and a little over 800 bags per year.

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