When necessities are collected for homeless shelters, one item is frequently overlooked, says Dominican University nursing student Naomi Moreland.

Menstrual hygiene products don’t always make it to the top of donation lists or into shelter care packages, and Moreland is working to change that.

This summer, she is using a $2,000 Excellence in Experiential Learning (ExcEL) Scholar Award from Dominican University to purchase and distribute tampons and sanitary pads to shelters in the Little Rock, Arkansas area.

Moreland, who is from Little Rock and has aspirations of a career in women’s health, is working with Care 4 Women, an Arkansas-based grassroots organization that makes menstrual hygiene products accessible to women in need. Founded by two young women who saw firsthand the lack of feminine hygiene products in local shelters, the group also works to eliminate the stigma of menstruation and raise awareness of “period poverty” — the inability to afford necessary menstrual hygiene care and the tax that is placed on these products across the country.

“I really, really wanted to help in some way, and I thought if I had this financial support I could make a huge difference,” Moreland said, explaining why she applied for an ExcEL grant this year. “Two thousand dollars can go a long way when you’re talking about menstrual products.”

ExcEL Scholar Awards are available to undergraduates interested in studying abroad or pursuing an educational project outside the classroom. Recipients are determined based on an application process.

Though she acknowledges it is “a little ambitious,” Moreland hopes to purchase and distribute 500 packages to shelters this summer.

While efforts have been made in recent years to pass legislation improving access to menstrual products in many states, Arkansas is not among states that require menstrual products be provided in shelters, schools or correctional facilities.

Even in places where a law exists, access can be difficult. According to a 2021 study published in the journal Reproductive Health, a survey of homeless individuals in New York City found “insufficient and inconsistent access to menstrual products,” with many reporting that they had to find ways to purchase their own, even while living in shelters. 

Moreland said she would also like to see menstrual products provided to middle schools and high schools in Arkansas and she wants to continue to raise awareness of women’s health.

“I’ve always thought knowledge is power,” Moreland said. “Knowing what is going on with your body and having the proper hygiene to take care of it is important for physical health and mental health too.”

Advocacy is something Moreland has seen firsthand as a student at Dominican, and it has inspired her, she says.

“Just seeing students being passionate about advocacy, I wanted to step up,” she said. “I wanted to do my part and be an advocate too.”