Chelsea VonChaz was in her period where she had a meeting that would one day lead her to dedicate her life to menstruation. At the time, VonChaz worked as a wardrobe stylist in Los Angeles for shows like Issa Raes Uncertain. She traveled from one concert to another in West Hollywood when she witnessed a woman experiencing homelessness without bleeding. It hit a chord.
“I just felt like no one took her seriously, and then I thought a little bit about how we don’t really look at people that we consider unfavorable or unpleasant,” VonChaz told POPSUGAR. “When she was so exposed, it just made me really angry.”
After working in Hollywood for a few years, VonChaz sought a greater purpose in his life. Of course, this was the spark that made her start reaching out to shelters. She soon learned that shelters are not required to devote any part of their budget to menstrual hygiene products, and they often have low for these essential things. It evolved into monthly periodic product distributions that VonChaz organized with his mother, family and friends focusing on neighborhoods with high homeless populations and therefore high period poverty, like LAs Skid Row.
She soon learned that shelters are not required to devote any part of their budget to menstrual hygiene products, and they often have low for these essential things.
Eventually, almost a year after her first aha moment – and many nights spent tossing and turning – VonChaz left styling and decided to make it nonprofit official. #HappyPeriod has grown exponentially over the past six years, collaborating with companies such as Cora, The Honey Pot Company and Thinx to bring products to schools and shelters. During the pandemic, however, VonChaz had to turn away from coordinating physical distribution, volunteer work, and any educational programming that forced her to think outside the box. She was pioneering the first period protective equipment (PPE) machine, a digital kiosk that handed out boxes of pads, tampons and even period clothes to replace the often defunct public toilet machines. Unlike most vending machines, the PPE machine is cashless. The products are free and the machine is maintained by donations from people who stop by and give to keep it running.
After some fundraising, #HappyPeriod installed the first PPE machine at a Shields For Families community center in Compton, California, in partnership with the city of Compton and Mayor Aja Brown. Mayor Brown’s office recommended this particular location, as it is an area in great need of free products – but VonChaz stressed that she also wants to branch out beyond community centers and shelters. She hopes to expand the PPE machine program by getting more corporate and individual sponsors to place kiosks places like LAX or middle school restrooms. “It’s not just about serving homeless people, but people who may not have access to a tampon at the moment,” VonChaz said.
Just as important as getting the right products in people’s hands is helping people learn about which products are best for their bodies, VonChaz explained. In the past year, she further focused on developing the educational component of #HappyPeriod. Instead of visiting schools for menstrual education programs, she makes these teaching materials virtual, including a free, periodic care and self-care e-book and downloadable workbook, which is available on the #HappyPeriod website. A long-term goal includes developing a curriculum for menstrual hygiene that school districts can adopt, which will involve students of all gender identities learning about periods because everyone can benefit from comprehensive, culturally sensitive education in sexual health.
“If [it were] mandatory for schools to teach it, black women would not be so far behind in our menstrual health, “said VonChaz. Her theory is that increased knowledge about reproductive health could potentially help black people who menstruate and give birth better advocate for themselves in health settings where their concerns are repeatedly dismissed.She noted that black women are three times more likely to suffer from uterine fibroids than white women, and maternal mortality is more than three times higher for black women giving birth.
Around the world, blacks and coloreds are also the ones who struggle most with period poverty, VonChaz explained – that’s why # HappyPeriod’s mission is to “reshape the discussion about menstruation, while bridging access to education and secure products for blacks people periods. ”With that, she works to disrupt the“ white savior ”narrative found in some areas of nonprofit and menstrual capital, where organizations are often positioned to serve black or marginalized people but are led by white people.
[#HappyPeriod’s] work positively affects one million periods across the country each year.
“You can not serve black people without including them. No black girl will be completely influenced by a white woman asking them to switch to a menstrual cup,” VonChaz said. For her, it is about providing black people who are menstruating with the necessary period products, along with the tools and knowledge they need to better understand their menstrual cycle and the product options available to them – and this cannot be fully accomplished. out without black leadership within menstruation -capital organizations.
Several years after #HappyPeriod was founded, the nonprofit’s work positively affects one million periods across the country each year. One tampon, vending machine, or school program at a time makes VonChaz periods a regular, integral part of the conversation and equips people with what they need while bleeding. And she’s just getting started.