Women's studies class rallies whole school
Thousands of boxes of tampons and pads collected during Sanitary Items Drive for homeless at LOHS
The women's studies class that debuted this school year at Lake Oswego High School worked together on a drive to help the homeless, but with something different than the usual food collections.
From Nov. 28-Dec. 9, a core group of seven students were collecting tampons and sanitary napkins during the Sanitary Items Drive. (The rest of the women's studies class is working on a project related to race relations.) The Sanitary Items Drive came about after the outcome of the U.S. presidential election left the class feeling somewhat glum, says Daylee Shaw, LOHS senior. Students felt divided by the contentious race.
"We wanted to create unity within our school," Shaw says.
The students wanted to take some kind of positive action to come together, and she'd seen a video on the news site Bustle about the difficulties homeless women face when they are menstruating. One problem is simply that hygiene products are expensive and hard to come by for someone living on the street or in a shelter. She urged her classmates to hold a drive to collect tampons and sanitary napkins, and not only was the class eager to make the event work, the whole school came together for it. The students collected 1,037 boxes of tampons, 1,224 boxes of pads and $150 in cash.
"It was really cool that so many people cared," says Cami Pontarelli, an LOHS senior.
Pontarelli, seniors Laura Ayre, Kaity Olsen, Grace Pestridge and Sophie Weigel and sophomore Hailey Earl all helped out with the drive. Weigel says it's especially important for people in Lake Oswego to perform acts of philanthropy like this drive.
"We in Lake Oswego have a lot more than a lot of other people," she says.
She says it was inspiring to teach her fellow students more about the struggles of people in need. The students say they took away many other lessons as well.
Ayre says the students had to put the event together sandwiched between Thanksgiving break and winter break, and "that was challenging."
Earl learned that her fellow students are more open than she expected.
"It was just cool, personally, to see how everyone reacted to the drive," she says. "I thought a lot of people would be weirded out and wouldn't want to donate. But … I feel like we made a difference."
Olsen says the need is vast, but that also means the opportunity to help is boundless.
"This is just going to be a cause that can help a lot of people," she says.
It's also a cause a lot of people helped out with, and even male students didn't shy away, such as J.P. Miska, an LOHS senior. As Associated Student Body publicities director, Miska made a point of announcing the drive far more frequently than he'd been asked to do.
"I just kept reading it," says Miska, who is in the women's studies class.
There could be more announcements in the future as well. Ayre says she sees the potential for this to be a legacy event, or even simply a monthly drive since women's menstruation "happens once a month," after all.
For now, the students still need to deliver the donations. They got delayed by snow and ice storms and winter break. The teens plan to give all they've collected to Portland Rescue Mission's Shepherd's Door, a transitional residence for single homeless women with children. Other groups may benefit as well, but the group hadn't officially decided all of its beneficiaries as of press time.
Whatever happens next with the drive, the students already have exceeded women's studies teacher Laura Paxson Kluthe's expectations. She'd planned for the students to have an end-of-the-year action project, but her students got organized far ahead of time.
She sees women's studies as the legacy of the Political Action Seminar, a class that was discontinued this year, but that also offered students leadership opportunities. The drive is just the kind of action she was hoping to see in the women's studies class.
"I was thrilled that this happened," she says.
The drive even earned a place in Principal Rollin Dickinson's newsletter, who outlined the goal of the drive.
"Their goal is to reach the whole student body and to demystify menstruation and homelessness within our school as well as to provide vital health products for the rapidly growing population of homeless women in Portland," Dickinson wrote.
Paxson Kluthe says she believes this group achieved that.