SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Two South Orange sisters are on a mission and eager to start the conversation about feminine hygiene as a public health issue through their nonprofit organization, Girls Helping Girls. Period.
Run by Emma and Quinn Joy, the organization’s mission is to educate the community about the need for feminine hygiene products and collect and distribute the products to women in need.
Emma, 15, and Quinn, 12, told the News-Record that the idea for GHGP was inspired by a conversation they had while collecting cans for a food drive event they had organized last year. Both girls were shocked to learn that the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly referred to as SNAP or food stamps, does not cover basic hygiene products like toilet tissue, toothpaste and feminine sanitary products.
The idea that such a critical piece of a woman’s health care is considered a luxury, especially one that many cannot afford, was unconscionable to the sisters, so they set out to change it.
The sisters, whose family has always heavily emphasized the importance of volunteerism, held a neighborhood party and invited friends to bring tampons or pads as a donation for them to distribute locally.
What was originally planned as a limited-engagement collection soon spread as word got out about what the girls were trying to do and, after a few weeks and dozens of donations, the idea for Girls Helping Girls. Period. was born.
“It took off from there with that first neighborhood party, and we never looked back,” Emma said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “Our goal is that each woman we serve will have enough supplies to last her for a year. If a family or a woman doesn’t have to think about this for a full year, that’s a big deal.”
Though they are still sorting through donations received through the end of 2015, so far the sisters have helped 150 women receive supplies for a full year.
“We’re not completely done distributing yet; with the money we raised we just put in an order at ShopRite for 1,200 boxes to be delivered to us next week, and that will help 80 more women,” Emma said.
The girls’ strategy is simple: They and their supporters host parties with themes that range from mother-daughter teas to red carpet events, and ask each guest to bring a feminine hygiene product donation that the sisters then distribute to one of the organizations with which they work.
“A lot of our friends help by hosting parties — lots of cute little fun parties — or a brunch,” Emma said. “They’re fun to host, they’re fun to attend and at all of them our friends collected products and gave them to us.”
The donations have been distributed to Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges, Interfaith Hospitality Network and South Orange Middle School, where Quinn is a seventh-grader.
“We gave the products to the school nurse for students who come every day to get them,” Quinn told the News-Record. “It should be something that is easy or free to get, but a lot of states have a high tax on it. Our main goal is to educate the public at hand.”
And educate the public is exactly what they do. On their extensive website, www.girlshelpinggirlsperiod.org, the girls provide an array of facts about how the burden of affording these products affects women not only in the United States, but around the world.
“We just finished the website and part of the website is to become an ambassador. With that comes fact sheets, party ideas and little tools to help create your own event,” Emma said. “We want to make this a national and hopefully a global thing and not just our friends in New Jersey. Our goal is to first distribute it in South Orange and Maplewood, and now we want to spread it out; we’re letting friends in California and (Washington), D.C., know about what we’re doing.”
Both girls agree that a significant component of their efforts is educating both women and men about how trying it can be for women to afford sanitary products.
“Every time we tell someone about it, it’s a shock to them,” the girls said. “Educating the public is a huge part of this.”
South Orange is taking note. Village President Sheena Collum attended the year-end party held at the girl’s home and plans to present them with a proclamation during a ceremony on Jan. 11.
School board member Johanna Wright, who has been following the girls’ community work, sings their praises and spoke about the work they are doing at a recent school board meeting.
“We have our leaders in students like Emma and Quinn who have set the tone. I am thrilled beyond belief with the task that they have taken on,” Wright said in a recent email to the News-Record. “We should all get involved with GHGP, because there is nothing more rewarding than helping someone without the resources to help themselves.”
In 2015, the sisters set a fundraising goal of $3,000 on their GoFundMe account, which they use to purchase the large orders of supplies from grocery stores. They raised $3,025 and have raised the bar even higher for the new year with a goal of $5,000 for 2016.
So far $1,295 has been raised this year, according to the sisters. The are eager to partner with friends and community members to host additional events for their cause.
Their next event will be the second Pound for a Cause pound fit class, to be held at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, 432 Scotland Road in South Orange, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m., and hosted by Maplewood resident and avid GHGP supporter Susan Berkley.
In a recent phone interview with Berkley, she discussed her excitement about supporting the work of the two young women.
“I know their mother very well and I loved the idea of children doing something, and it’s something to be supported,” Berkley said. “Our kids should always be supported when they are doing something for someone other than themselves. And as a woman, I definitely wanted to support.”
Berkley organized the class after meeting fellow South Orange resident Dionne Smith, who was teaching a pound fit class as part of the South Orange Fit campaign. Smith agreed to teach a free class for the organization’s benefit and, due to the success last year, will return to teach again this year.
So what’s next for the Joy sisters? Reaching out to more people on their recently completed website; spreading the message on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages; and working to include more district schools in their campaign. Oh, and a feature in Woman’s Day magazine that will run in the April 2016 issue.