AUSTIN (KXAN) — In five frequented bathrooms across the Texas A&M University campus, women can find free pads and tampons. These menstrual products were provided by a student organization, the Period Project, led by senior Erica Pauls.

The Period Project at Texas A&M organized to address the issue of ‘period poverty,’ or when someone cannot afford menstrual products. A study from BMC Women’s Health showed 14.2% of college-aged women have experienced period poverty in the past year. The Period Project based need on the results of a survey it put out on social media, Pauls said. One third of the survey respondents indicated they have missed class or other activities due to their period. 

“I want to lessen the barriers of access to education, access to student success, being able to fully participate on campus,” Pauls said.

Although this is just one school, the same issues are seen across the country. Other groups across Texas are working toward the same goal, including Periods United. Alexa Atkinson, founder of Periods ATX and Periods United, said one goal of the organization is to provide free menstrual products for all the schools in Texas.

“We got free menstrual products in Texas State, because we feel like all schools should be providing these products free,” Atkinson said. “They should have access to these products, and they shouldn’t be missing out on their education because of the lack of tampons and pads.”

Although often overlooked by those donating, menstrual products are among the first products to be used at food banks and women’s shelters.

“When I think about the families in our community that are in need, they’re struggling to afford groceries, included in that is our personal care items, like our tampons, pads and items like that,” said Lauren Burge, community engagement manager at Brazos Valley Food Bank. “I would never want to make a family choose between paying a bill or paying for these necessities that they need.”

According to Austin Diaper Bank, one in four individuals have experienced difficulty buying menstrual products. Because of the great need for menstrual products, the nonprofit started its Bright Spot program, which partners with U by Kotex to provide free pads and tampons to schools across Austin. Executive Director Holly McDaniel said the nonprofit provides products for more than 50 schools.

“We want to make sure every student doesn’t miss school or class or any activity in their daily lives because of their period,” McDaniel said.

Austin Diaper Bank worked closely with State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) to create H.B. 321, relating to a sales and use tax exemption for certain feminine hygiene products. The bill aims to eliminate the tax on menstrual products in Texas.

“We do believe that there shouldn’t be taxes on period supplies,” McDaniel said. “Having your period and buying pads or tampons is not a luxury. It’s a need, a basic need.”

Howard has filed this bill twice before, only for it to die in committee in the past. The bill usually doesn’t get much momentum, because sales tax is the largest source of revenue for the state of Texas, Howard said. Last legislative session, the committee decided not to pass the bill, in part, because it would eliminate $37 million in sales tax.

“This session we’ve had a challenging budget, but we also have a lot of opportunities to address our budget shortfalls with the federal stimulus that we’re getting,” Howard said. “That might free up a little more space for considering doing this this time. So, I’m hopeful.”

In the meantime, activists hope their efforts to provide free pads and tampons will start a conversation about the inequality created by expensive menstrual products.

“Somebody asked me one time, ‘Why should this be free?’” Pauls said. “And I was like, ‘Well, toilet paper is free. Why should toilet paper be free?’”