Too often, and at least once a month, people who are homeless or economically disadvantaged have to make a terrible choice: buy menstrual hygiene products when they have their periods, or pay for a meal?

A group of counseling and mental health students at University of Scranton is looking to alleviate the pain and pressure of that situation with a drive throughout November that collects unused tampons, menstrual cups and monetary donations to be applied to buying such items for those in need.

Kathie Kaopuiki-Nestrick, 46, hails from Hawaii, where she said she watched her transgender brother struggle through instability that saw him both without a place to live and lacking the funds for his testosterone shots. When his hormonal imbalance caused his menstruation to return, he often had to weigh whether to use what little money he had on treatments to feel more at home in his body, or products to address his period.

Kaopuiki-Nestrick, who is studying for a master’s in clinical mental health counseling at U of S, said she found out through conversations with classmates who worked with Scranton’s own homeless population that the struggle was prevalent here, too. In acknowledging their own privilege of never really worrying about such a problem, the students — including Ernie O’Connell, Lizzie Schurr, Jessica DeMarco, Briana Lennon, Vicky Hunsinger and Shelby Valvano — decided to do something proactive to help, and started a Facebook fundraising campaign.

“We thought we could get some people together and make some donations, and then put it to the community,” Kaopuiki-Nestrick said. “It doesn’t have to be a plate of food or $5 to the person on the corner. We’re working on putting out bins, or we go to pick up if someone gets in touch with us. And we received a 1,000 tampon donation from Amazon.

“Every little bit counts. It’s a problem, and it’s something not everyone is ready to talk about because it’s so taboo. But any little bit I can do can help, and it’s my responsibility to do that because I’m aware of it.”

Ideal donations are unused tampons and menstrual cups, but there is a need for pads and liners, too, she added.

Another group member, Briana Lennon, 24, who is working toward a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, said the project seemed critical due to the rising number of people affected by economic instability, especially in the Scranton area.

“I know the homeless population is growing significantly, and it’s very important to me that other(s) have accessibility to feminine products,” Lennon said. “It’s kind of just assumed they take care of their own thing, but a lot of times, (they) struggle significantly.

“They do what they can to make it through the day, whether that’s choosing between buying products or a meal. I don’t think that’s a choice they should have to make. It’s important to me (that) people become very aware of this issue.”

How to donate

  • Give money to the Facebook campaign by Nov. 30.
  • Contact Kathie Kaopuiki-Nestrick at 310-707-6993 or, or Briana Lennon at 570-862-5291 or to arrange product/donation pick-ups.
  • Donate unused products to local shelters and soup kitchens, such as the Women’s Resource Center or St. Francis in Scranton.