One example of relational mission: Days For Girls International
Third Church called me in 2014 with the understanding that part of my work would be to redevelop mission and community outreach. They had begun gathering ideas in what would be my office. I was quickly drawn to Days for Girls (DfG) and their washable menstrual which includes all of the products a menstruator would need that will last for years. What you might not notice immediately is that those kits also contain: dignity, education, and independence.
In what has seemed like a blink of an eye Third Church became the host of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s DfG Chapter, and I became the leader of this group of people from the church, college campuses, and community. Initially, the Presbyterian Women were most excited about the project, but that enthusiasm spread. Now our team includes women and men who want to serve the larger world and some who simply need a welcoming and affirming place to get their required service hours. By surveying our community, we found students, people in recovery programs, and people re-entering the world after being in prison who all needed service hours. What we heard in response to this opportunity was the surprise and delight at how volunteers were cared for and the excitement they had in our common mission of helping people with periods. We saw members of our community who were often marginalized and stigmatized blossom and grow (some quicker than others) into the beloved children God was calling them to be. The group of weekly volunteers included and loved people in a way I can only describe as the reign of God at work.
Leading the Pittsburgh Chapter quickly touched on all the aspects of why I feel called to ministry. The feminist part of me loved the idea of washable menstrual products as a reliable, reusable, and sustainable solution. The social justice part of me loved that having access to these washable pads freed people from systemic poverty by giving girls more days in school and women more days at work. The mission-minded part of me loved the way DfG models interacting with global partners. The pastor part of me realized that when people are comfortable making washable pads and talking about women’s health, they are willing to talk about other uncomfortable subjects, like faith and spirituality. I found myself and other volunteers engaged in conversations that I would have never dreamt were possible. The sewing room was a safe space where all objects and people could be mended.
During the pandemic, we had to shut down our outreach to the larger community and with just a handful of people who made up the leadership team we found new ways to continue working with most volunteers at home. Unfortunately, we were not able to include the people in the halfway houses. We are still working on how we can reincorporate them back into our chapter, but some of the COVID cautious restrictions have made that more difficult. Students have returned to work with us but in a more limited way than before too. I can still feel the Holy Spirit at work in our sewing room, but in a different way now. And we wait in hope for a time when we can have a fuller version of community again.
While our sewing room is a little emptier than before we have transitioned to being a collection point for the USA teams. This means we are gathering components, kits, and in-kind donations to assemble DfG kits to be distributed to areas in need (you can learn more about distribution by visiting the DfG map). My team sorts, checks, and repairs components and then assembles kits that are then packed into boxes and onto pallets. We do not travel with these kits. DfG works with other organizations to ensure the kits arrive at their destination and are distributed by local leaders who have completed the DfG educational training courses. It’s a global team effort.
DfG empowers local leaders to provide education to their communities so that every person receives menstrual health information and menstrual health products from someone who speaks their language and looks like them. These local leaders are supported as they establish enterprises that provide products and employment for others in their community. We don’t assume they need a plane full of White ladies to come to their rescue. We are not the saviors here. Instead, we reach out to our colleagues and offer ourselves the position of equals and friends who can learn from each other. I find the way DfG establishes relationships and organizes volunteers worldwide especially inspiring.
During the pandemic, the Pittsburgh Chapter has also shifted more efforts into distributing kits locally. When school shut down, we distributed kits to students who usually rely on their school nurse for period products. We’ve also partnered with groups providing period products in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Keep in mind that government aid programs do not provide period products. Period poverty affects people everywhere.
Want to get involved?
Days for Girls (DfG)is working to increase access to menstrual care and education by developing global partnerships, cultivating Social Entrepreneurs, mobilizing volunteers and innovation sustainable solutions that shatter stigma and limitations for all people with periods. The Days for Girls Mission is simple: creating a more dignified, free, and educated world through access to lasting menstrual health. Their tagline is: Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.
DfG is involved in menstrual health advocacy. This is where I would recommend that interested people begin their work, but there are many ways to get involved. I also recommend checking out their podcast.
You can make a donation to Days for Girls International or to The Pittsburgh Chapter or purchase needed materials from Pittsburgh’s amazon wish list. Wish list items can be shipped directly to Third Presbyterian Church. You can also follow the Pittsburgh Chapter on Instagram @dfg_pgh or Like our Facebook page .
Karie Charlton is the associate pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pa. She is the leader of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls. You can find more of her writing in her blog, www.periodpastor.com, or by following her on Facebook and Instagram @periodpastor.