The Board Game Cafe door chimes as Northwest faculty and staff gather with community members to discuss fundraising methods and assembling pad packages at the WeGotchya! meeting at 11 a.m. each second Saturday of the month.
WeGotchya! provides free sanitary products in women’s restrooms at Northwest. The products are presented in baskets which allow students to take one when they need it while inviting them to donate one when they can.
“It started about a year ago when somebody read about period poverty and the fact that some women just don’t have the wherewithal to spend money on sanitary products,” Northwest Librarian Carolyn Johnson said. “It’s been mainly donor supplied from lots of women on campus who work here.”
Other women who helped start WeGotchya! last fall included Jacquie Lamer, Deb Toomey, Helen Konstantopoulos and Elyssa Ford. More than 40 people now help with the project.
“It’s just really a whole village of women who are doing this,” Johnson said. “It’s very empowering and a very positive thing for the women on this campus.”
WeGotchya! also donates feminine products to the Northwest Food Pantry so students in need can get a month’s supply.
“We don’t want students to miss class,” Johnson said. “We don’t want students to have a study group or time in the library and have it be interrupted by an emergency. In the end, we’re always working for our students’ achievement and success.”
Maintaining the 25 feminine product baskets on campus costs about $6,000 annually, according to a press release Aug. 15. WeGotchya! members Lamer, Toomey and Johnson presented their cause to the Maryville Host Lions which donated $500.
A regular fundraiser WeGotchya! set up is a dinner at Hy-Vee from 5-8 p.m. every third Wednesday of the month in the Market Grille. Hy-Vee donates 5% of the proceeds made during the three hours. WeGotchya! members also accept donations at the events.
The most recent WeGotchya! dinner was Aug. 21. To celebrate the start of the semester, Hy-Vee donated $1 for each $6 or $7 meal. With donations and raffle entries, the event raised $292.
Northwest Payroll Manager Barb Walk won the raffle.
Hy-Vee Kitchen Manager Sara Tompkins immediately wanted to help WeGotchya! when it reached out to her for fundraiser ideas.
“It’s a good group,” Tompkins said. “I think everyone has been in that situation where you’re just kind of trapped; you don’t have any money on you or you’re not in a place where you can even buy one. I’ve totally been there and I know everyone else has too.”
Soon after WeGotchya! started, the women involved started making packages of reusable pads to send down to an orphanage and school called House of Hope Haiti run by Northwest faculty Bayo Joachim and Mike Bellamy. It’s an effort to keep the girls in school because they can’t leave their house when they’re on their period.
Joachim brought the first 25-30 packages to Haiti in May. Each bag holds enough product for two or three days.
Many Maryville residents also help with making the packages. Members each work on their part individually then they assemble the packages during the monthly meetings at the Board Game Cafe.
“Education is where you get your freedom,” Northwest alumna Pat Kinman said. “It’s where you’re getting a chance to go beyond your spot in line. If you don’t have it, you’re kind of annulled.”
Women and girls in Haiti don’t usually have access to disposable pads because one package costs about two-weeks pay, Kinman said. WeGotchya! continues to make the reusable pads because there are more people in need and the ones they’ve already sent will need to be replaced.
“Ideally, we’d like every girl in Haiti to be able to have access to these packs,” Kinman said. “No girl should have to go without their education. No woman should be trapped at home because it’s their time of the month.”
WeGotchya! plans to create a student chapter of Period.org, a national organization aiming to end period poverty and the menstruation stigma.
“It’s an educational advocacy group about these issues and that we can make a difference where we’re at,” Johnson said. “It is cool because it’s something very practical and something very needed.”