When Hood College students Mackenzie Clark and Jenna Frick brainstormed with their group in their social entrepreneurship class, they wanted to create a project that would help the community.
Through research, they found that homeless and low-income women struggle to afford feminine hygiene products, even with the help of nonprofit programs.
“We wanted to gear something towards females that could help them,” said Clark, a rising senior studying business administration with concentrations in marketing and social entrepreneurship. ”This isn’t a problem that’s just in Frederick. In fact, Frederick is a pretty affluent community. It’s less of a problem here, but throughout the nation, it’s a huge problem. And for women, you can’t just not have feminine hygiene products.
“One of the things that we talked about is everybody knows someone who has their period,” she added.
Nonprofits have reported that feminine hygiene products are among the most requested items, but one of the least donated, which is often because people don’t like to talk about menstruation. When women don’t have access to feminine hygiene products, they often turn to unsanitary methods, such as paper towels or dirty socks, Clark said.
With that in mind, the group of women developed Astraea, a hot pink 13-by-13-inch box filled with feminine hygiene products that will be placed around the community.
“Women can go to nonprofit organizations and get feminine hygiene products,” Clark said. “But you have to go when they’re open. Our boxes would be around the community in close proximity.”
While Astraea was developed in their class in August, it’s also part of Enactus, a global social entrepreneurship platform, which includes a chapter at Hood, that helps develop entrepreneurial leaders and social innovators, according to its website.
Clark, Frick and their classmate Delanie Diverio headed the project with support from the other 25 members of Enactus. The girls came up with the idea in August, developed a plan in the fall and made the first Astraea box in February.
Clark explained that the group based the Astraea model on the Little Free Library, a box placed in the community where people can take or leave a book.
Groups or organizations can sponsor an Astraea box and place it on their property or in their establishment where people can easily take a feminine hygiene product such as a tampon, pad or panty liner.
“We decided to create a website that will allow nonprofit organizations go in and create wish lists,” she said. “Then a donor can log into the website and see what nonprofit organizations or which boxes are in close proximity to them and see what items they need currently.”
When a box is sponsored, the group or organization pays Enactus $100 to receive a stocked box. Clark said the idea is that the community will restock the boxes with donations through the website so the organization doesn’t have to, but can if they want to.
“When they pay $100, $50 goes towards us making the box, $25 goes toward the initial stocking of the box and the remaining $25 comes back to Astraea so that we can continue our project and develop the website,” said Frick, a rising junior majoring in business administration with concentrations in marketing and mathematics.
Astraea has brought in $200 so far, Clark said.
The girls get the boxes from Ikea and spray-paint, caulk and coat them on campus, but they’re looking to develop a new box system that’s easier for them to maintain and create.
Since February, they have made five boxes, which are each stocked with two boxes of tampons, a pack of panty liners, a pack of underwear and two packs of pads.
They’re in talks with Frederick County Parks and Recreation to put them in public places such as parks, and already have a few sponsorships from Hood College’s marketing department, Khaki Software in Urbana and the Housing Authority of the City of Frederick.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Angie Liddiard, the Housing Authority’s director of development. “I thought they recognized a need that was out there. With feminine hygiene supplies you don’t ever want to think of a woman who needs that and can’t afford it.”
Liddiard, who is also on the advisory board of Enactus at Hood, said the Housing Authority sponsored three boxes. One box is in the authority’s main office at 209 Madison St. The second box is at the family services location at 155 Pennsylvania Ave. The third box’s location is still being determined.
David Gurzick, chair of the George B. Delaplaine Jr. School of Business at Hood and Enactus adviser, teaches the social entrepreneurship class where the Enactus students brainstormed the idea for Astraea.
“I heard the idea as it was morphing into what it is now,” he said. “All of a sudden they got this spark in their eyes when they realized they had a very impactful project.
“It’s not just affecting people that are homeless,” he said. “It’s affecting people at the margin as well.”
By margin, he means the ALICE report, a report produced by the United Way that details, by state and county, the amount of money that people have to make to stay above the federal poverty line.
“So, you have these people that are employed, they have jobs, but they’re not making enough to get by,” he said. “These people have to make hard choices each month. Do they spend money on essentials like food for their family, health care or products like feminine hygiene products?”
He said the women heading the project created the “beginnings of a community-wide model” that the community has already begun to support.
“And I see that as potential for great success,” he said.