The founders of Capital Region Menstrual Health (CRMH), Brynn Watkins, Claire Jennings, and Annabelle Rieseler, were guest speakers for our SPARK students this month. They shared the story of how they initiated CRMH and their remarkable achievements to date.
CRMH, an initiative of Cornell Cooperative Extension, is dedicated to promoting period equity by providing menstrual products to under-resourced communities. Located at Bethesda House on State Street in Schenectady, their period pantry ensures 24/7 access to menstrual products for individuals. Inspired by The Free Flo Box Project in Ohio, the founders established a similar initiative in Schenectady. CRMH collaborates closely with New York health departments, shelters, refugee centers, and community-based organizations. Presently, they operate five period pantries in Schenectady and three in Albany.
Period poverty, resulting from financial barriers or menstrual stigma, leads to insufficient access to menstrual products and education. CRMH emphasizes the importance of inclusive language in the fight against period poverty, recognizing that not all individuals with periods are women, and not all women menstruate.
In January 2023, CRMH founders conducted an educational period workshop at Girls Inc. in Schenectady for girls aged 8-12. At the end of the session, the girls customized their own period kits with stickers and markers. Since February, CRMH has distributed over 45,000 period products throughout Albany County. On May 30th, the founders were invited by Women United/United Way of the Capital Region to speak at the State Capitol for World Menstrual Hygiene Day. They also engaged with representatives and advocates for free period products.
When asked for advice for high school students working on their self-initiated projects, Claire emphasized the importance of data and numbers, highlighting that two in five people in the U.S. struggle to access period products. As community-based organization fellows, they soon recognized the substantial need for menstrual products.
Brynn stressed the significance of finding allies who can propel your initiative forward. She encouraged students to conduct thorough research, as there might be others working on similar projects. Profound impacts can be made through collaboration, she noted, adding that sometimes things progress naturally — so, go with the flow.