Free Flow

Nonprofit introduces ‘period pod’ station in Santa Fe equipped with free menstrual products

Founder of Free Flow New Mexico Laurie Merrill poses next to the first period pod equipped with products. (Evan Chandler)

With the cut of a ribbon, menstruating Santa Feans now have a place to access free period products, and more are on the way.

During the early stages of the pandemic, Executive Director and Founder of Free Flow New Mexico Laurie Merrill often wondered where students who typically went to the school nurse’s station to get period products were getting them from when school wasn’t in person. Come fall of 2020, Merrill asked former Superintendent of Santa Fe Schools Veronica Garcia for permission to play a part in distributing them to students, and Garcia said yes. Today, Merrill’s group provides these items in more places than just schools.

Free Flow New Mexico is a volunteer-based, nonprofit organization that creates 300 bags containing a one-month supply of period products including tampons, pads and liners every month. Around 20 organizations in Santa Fe receive and distribute these bags. Merrill tells SFR she hopes to end “period poverty,” or a lack of access to menstrual products and education.

According to a study in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance, the average menstruator in the United States spends over $6,000 before tax on period products over the course of the average reproductive lifetime. Merrill says by addressing the expense, other aspects of menstruators’ lives can greatly improve as well.

“When an individual’s basic necessities are taken care of, they have the ability to thrive. Period products are a basic necessity,” she says. “Providing free period products to low-income menstruators will eliminate a missed opportunity and allow individuals to remain engaged in their career, education, sports and other activities.”

Tuesday’s ribbon cutting marked the first day for a “period pod,” which provides 24-hour accessibility to a month’s supply of free period products for individuals. Every week, the pod will be stocked with 25 bags, bringing the total to 100 bags per pod a month. The pods use upcycled SFR boxes to help distribute the items and will be designed by local artists, with the first featuring the work of Miraj Bukhari-Frayer.

Merrill describes the pod program as “an extension” of the general distribution where many may need to be clients or members of supporting organizations to access the materials. She plans to have a total of six pods in Santa Fe by the end of the year. She tells SFR that Free Flow New Mexico currently has the funding for four, partly sponsored through a grant from the Nusenda Foundation.

“There are very few people in this world who do not interact with a menstruating person,” says Sara Keller, vice president of community engagement at the Nusenda Credit Union and executive director of the foundation. “This is one of the real barriers to health care that people can really get behind, and you can very easily see a path forward.”

Merrill says she hopes to have more period pod locations at the Southside and LaFarge libraries and the Ortiz Mountain Health Center in Cerrillos within the next two months.

Lawmakers this year passed a measure requiring public schools to provide free pads and/or tampons to students in every women’s bathroom and gender-neutral bathroom, as well as at least one men’s bathroom, in every middle school, junior high school, secondary school and high school. Elementary schools are required to provide them in at least one women’s bathroom, one men’s bathroom and one gender-neutral bathroom.

Merrill called the bill “an amazing step forward for the state of New Mexico,” but pointed out the law does not cover universities or school breaks and has no guarantee of quality of the products, which can lead to leakage.

“One in five college students experience period poverty. What this means is we literally have students who are dropping out of school because they don’t have proper or enough period products,” she says. “In addition, some don’t have any and they’re using toilet paper, socks and rags in order to take care of their monthly menstruation.”

According to Merrill, Free Flow New Mexico plans to give presentations next year in schools on period poverty. At the end of the presentation, students will have the opportunity to build 100 bags which can be used in their school or sent out to the community.

Menstruators can access the first period pod outside Reunity Resources at 1829 San Ysidro Crossing in Santa Fe.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the story contained an error regarding funding. It has been corrected.

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