News & Politics

This DC Nonprofit Is Providing Furloughed Government Workers With Feminine Products

I Support the Girls has received dozens of requests for tampons, pads, and bras during the shutdown.

Photograph courtesy of Dana Marlowe.

When Dana Marlowe put out a call via Instagram on January 10 to help give feminine products to furloughed workers, she expected a handful of responses. Providing relief packages of hygienic products—like pads and tampons, along with bras—is what her DC-based nonprofit, I Support the Girls, does every day. A couple of extra requests during the shutdown seemed like an easy lift. “Today’s the day furloughed federal employees/contractors will experience their first missed paycheck,” the graphic, which Marlowe threw together on Canva, read. “If that’s you, and you need menstrual hygiene products, please email us.”

The first response, from a spouse of federal prison correctional officer working without pay, came quickly. The email, as dictated to Washingtonian, read: “My husband is a correctional officer at a federal prison and we won’t be receiving a paycheck tomorrow. He is the provider in our household as I am a homemaker who stays home with our two children. Any help would be much appreciated.”

Many similar requests followed. A dozen requests soon turned to 30, and now Marlowe estimates between 70 and 80 furloughed workers or their families have asked for assistance. The morning we spoke on the phone, she had nine new requests. Individuals have reached out from a wide swath of agencies, including the FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Justice Department, the Bureau of Prisons, the State Department, the Interior Department, and the TSA. Marlowe read a few more of their emails aloud, keeping the senders’ identifications anonymous.

“I am approaching my second missed paycheck and in need of menstrual products,” wrote a furloughed mom. “I am also a breastfeeding mother without any real bras anymore. Anything you can do will help.”

The shutdown, now in its 34th day, has also affected a family of six: “My husband and I have to go to work and we are not getting paid. We have four kids and it is getting stressful. His car broke down, so now we’re only using one. Of the four kids we have three teenage girls, so of course we use a lot of female hygiene products.”

Another has dipped into their paid time off—not uncommon among furloughed workers—while she has been ordered to come back to work with no guaranteed back pay. “I am an FAA contractor and have been furloughed since last year. I’ve used most of my vacation and am now accruing negative hours, trying to figure out how to pay my mortgage and other bills. While this may be small, as you said, ‘a little goes a long way.’ I could totally use some feminine hygiene products, pads and liners to be specific.”

“These are stories I hear regularly,” Marlowe says. “I don’t usually hear them tied to an FAA employee or an FBI employee.”

Lack of access to proper hygienic products impacts women all over the world, NPR reported in 2015. For those living paycheck to paycheck in the US, the price of items like pads and tampons can add up quickly. For a family with two menstruating individuals, the price could easily rise to $30 a month, or more.

I Support the Girls’ stock is running low, particularly with regard to pads. Marlowe says she will continue fulfilling requests from all who submit them. Why? It’s about providing dignity, she says, to those who need it most.

“If they’re furloughed, they shouldn’t have to choose between a maxipad and putting food on the table.”

Staff Writer

Brittany Shepherd covers the societal and cultural scene in political Washington. Before joining Washingtonian as a staff writer in 2018, Brittany was a White House Correspondent for Independent Journal Review. While she has lived in DC for a number of years now, she still yearns for the fresh Long Island bagels of home. Find her on Twitter, often prattling on about Frasier.