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Taylor Harrison, Sheryl Luna, Kiara Rivas and Amy Nevarez | © Laurent Carré
Taylor Harrison, Sheryl Luna, Kiara Rivas and Amy Nevarez | © Laurent Carré

LA Non-Profit Aunt F.L.O. Fights Period Stigma

Picture of Claudia Oberst
Updated: 13 December 2016
When Sheryl Luna has her period, she sometimes gets cramps so violent that her boss has to send her home. ‘I’m vomiting and on the floor,’ she says, and just thinking about it makes her shudder. One day, she was wondering what it must be like for homeless women who cannot afford pads or tampons or don’t have a bed in which they can curl up. How do they deal with what Sheryl calls ‘the inevitable’?

That’s when the 24-year-old got together with some of her best friends and started the group Aunt F.L.O. Their goal: spread awareness and help homeless women. ‘There is this stigma around women and periods, and we want to end it,’ Luna sums up the motivation behind Aunt F.L.O. They have since organized several tampon and pad drop-offs at the Downtown Women’s Shelter in downtown Los Angeles. They launched a Facebook page and an Instagram account to promote their association. Right now, they’re getting ready for their first fundraiser. Against the national trend, they have decided to step up their civic engagement.

Sheryl Luna getting ready for the drop-off © Laurent Carré

Sheryl Luna getting ready for the drop-off | © Laurent Carré

Putting the period on the spot

Aunt F.L.O. are not the only ones fighting the period stigma. In a move for gender equality, politicians, activists and celebrities are putting the period on the spot. Whoopi Goldberg recently launched a line of marijuana products to ease menstrual pain. In January, California Assembly members Cristina Garcia and Ling Ling Chang introduced a bill to fight the ‘tampon tax,’ saying it is unfair that women have to pay tax on essential female health products while Viagra is tax exempt. Kiran Gandhi, the drummer for singer M.I.A., drew attention last year when she ran the London Marathon while letting her period blood flow down her legs. She said she was ‘advocating for it to be ok for women to speak comfortably and honestly about their periods.’

Since they started their project in early 2015, Sheryl Luna Kiara Rivas, Taylor Harrison, Amy Nevarez, and Daniela Loza and their friends have regularly donated their time and money to help others. ‘Some people dehumanize the homeless,’ says Luna. ‘The people on the streets don’t have much of a voice, but they are humans just like us.’

A cart full of donations © Laurent Carré

A cart full of donations | © Laurent Carré

In addition to buying feminine hygiene products, they also collect clothes, shoes and purses.  Every couple of months, they gather everything and drive it to the DWC. Although they have been to Skid Row several times, it unsettles them to see how the people live there. When her family from Guatemala visits, Luna takes them to Skid Row. ‘I need to because otherwise they’d keep thinking that everybody in LA is rich.’

More than 28,000 homeless in Los Angeles

Skid Row is the central gathering point for homeless people in Los Angeles. A vast array of tents and makeshift homes lines the sidewalks around San Pedro and Fifth Street east of downtown Los Angeles. The air smells of urine. Leftover food and trash are scattered along the streets.

More than 28,000 homeless people live in the city. That’s a 23 percent rise compared to 2013, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Authority. While there are organizations that run shelters and provide food and medical services, the biggest problem remains the lack of affordable permanent housing. Mayor Eric Garcetti recently presented an ambitious $138 million plan to build new housing and provide more services for the homeless population, but it is still unclear how these measures will be financed.

Skid Row is on the other side of the fence © Laurent Carré

Skid Row is on the other side of the fence | © Laurent Carré

For homeless women, access to housing is one thing. Access to pads and tampons is another: neither tampons nor pads can be bought with food stamps. To help out menstruating women, private organizations like Aunt F.L.O. have come up with their own ideas. In Orlando, The Period Project raises funds for feminine hygiene products for homeless women and girls. Distributing Dignity, based in New Jersey, hands out new bras and hygiene products to women in need.

Solidarity, not charity

At Aunt F.L.O., the friends know that they can’t change the world, but they are determined to make an impact on their community. They see their commitment as solidarity, not charity. ‘It’s not about us or Aunt F.L.O., it’s about people becoming more aware of what they can do to help,’ says Luna. Her friend Taylor Harrison adds that sometimes a small friendly gesture can already make a difference: ‘It doesn’t have to be monetary; you can just say ‘hello’ to a homeless person.’

Cups filled with tampons and pads © Laurent Carré

Cups filled with tampons and pads | © Laurent Carré

Aunt F.L.O. is having a fundraiser event on July 9th at Lake Street Community Center in Los Angeles. There will be a raffle and a skateboarding competition. They are looking for donations for the raffle. People interested in working with Aunt F.L.O. or donating items are welcome to stop by or contact them via Facebook.