MANSFIELD — When Melissa Lawhorn noticed that girls were asking for sanitary products for Christmas, she knew something needed to change.
“Some families this Christmas asked for pads and tampons as gifts,” said the Mid-Ohio youth guidance specialist. “They shouldn't have to ask for it. So we came up with this.”
Mid-Ohio Youth Mentoring hosted Richland Public Health at the Friendly House on Saturday and distributed bags of menstrual products.
Program leaders invited all girls ages 10 and older and their leaders.
Lawhorn said participants who were unable to pick up their product bags on Saturday can make arrangements to pick them up later. The leadership team put together 100 bags containing approximately three months' worth of menstrual products, toothbrushes, deodorant, and hand sanitizer.
“Girls who are on the waiting list and don’t have a mentor will also be given a bag,” Lawhorn said.
Executive Director Jim Nicholson said between small and large tutoring and after-school programs, Mid-Ohio Youth Tutoring supports more than 500 children. In this program he has 94 girls over the age of 10 participating.
“Melissa recognized that access to vintage items was an issue, so she researched on her own to see if there were any resources and wrote a grant,” Nicholson said. “We took her $3,000 from the Richland County Women's Fund and put some money in from our budget as well.
“We would like to do this at least once a year. If we have the funding to support it, we would like to provide supply kits quarterly.”
Ohio law currently requires schools to provide free menstrual products to female students in grades 6 through 12.
Crestview Local Schools and Mansfield City Schools have Richland Public Health dispensers in their buildings.
Alice Ramsey, a health educator with Richland Public Health, shared information about the Free Flow program with Saturday's attendees. We provide free menstrual products and educational resources throughout Richland County.
Ramsey said Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Chaya will partner with the Columbus-based organization Ant Flow to launch the program in 2022.
The Free Flow program covers the initial cost of installing dispensers in schools and businesses. The dispenser contains organic cotton napkins and tampons.
“This is a great and needed resource,” Ramsey said. “Schools and businesses are trying to place children in high-traffic and easily accessible areas so that girls and the general public can easily find them.”
The interactive map lists locations with free flow dispensers, including all Mansfield-Richland County Public Library branches, Richland County Children's Services, Renaissance Theater and Richland Academy of the Arts.