Love until it’s over. It’s not over.
Not yet. But it can feel that way. Especially when so many powerful people don’t demonstrate an understanding that real care requires respect for the cared-for. Ashley Novoa Allison, founder of the Chicago Period Project, gets it. You’ll hear more from her in a bit. But first, this edition of Friend Report begins with a classic buddy check...
“Where are you? What are you doing?”
Jocelyn Brown: “I’m at home in my new, dark room. Totally just laying here.”
Jocelyn is a music supervisor, DJ, playlist-maker, and essayist. She introduced me to a clairvoyant earlier this year, and I think about what I learned in that meeting every day. Here, her argument in favor of working with an intuitive:
“People always want to know the answer to the immediate, pressing question: ‘Does this person like me?’ ‘What’s going to happen in terms of my work life?’ 'Will I find financial prosperity?' The basic things everyone’s concerned with, right? I have found it really helpful, before I even talk with [my intuitive], to try to look at the root causes of why I even want to ask those questions. Look at the things you don’t want to look at. Ask yourself those difficult, scary questions that throw you into a place of vulnerability, and you’ll often be surprised at what you find. [It can be] a humbling thing. It’s a hard thing. But it’s a real thing, you know?"
Molly, with her collaborator Veronica Sheaffer, runs the brilliant style blog How Old Is Too Old? (Trick question, the answer is never.) She’s an expert frock-swapper, and recommends bringing bras to your next clothing swap:
“I’ve given and gotten great bras. If a bra just doesn’t fit, but you spent money on it, it’s likely been sitting in your drawer for one whole year and never been worn. Why not just give it up? That thing cost 50 bucks. Bring it to a frock swap, somebody else tries it on, and it’s like, ‘Oh, that actually fits your body. You should have it.’ At a frock swap, nothing is really off limits. Except, like, dirty, pitted-out tank tops.”
Sophie Kim: “I’m driving right now—I’m not supposed to be on the phone! I’m on the way home from a doctor’s appointment for [my son]. I hope people don't judge me! It’s the only time I have to talk on the phone with a friend.”
Announcement! On Sunday, July 9, Sophie—educator, parent, and hapkido enthusiast—is hosting a yard sale at Comfort Station in Chicago to benefit Between Friends, a organization that supports victims of domestic violence in metro Chicago. Between Friends relies on state funding, and Illinois is still a total mess. Support Between Friends’ work by buying new-to-you stuff between 10 AM and 4 PM on July 9, or by donating here any time.
Ashley NOVOA Allison turned heartbreak into a nonprofit.
On November 9, 2016, Ashley Novoa Allison was heartbroken and furious about the results of the presidential election. (Maybe you can relate.) She logged into Facebook. (Maybe you can still relate.) Then she wrote something I’ve gone back to again and again:
What happens when, on the other side of brokenness and anger, someone finds love and kindness and acceptance?
Before November was over, Ashley founded the Chicago Period Project, an organization that collects menstruation supplies and delivers them to Chicagoans in need. By its most recent counts, the Period Project has distributed more than 5,000 tampons, 3,500 pads, and 1,300 liners to shelters, community centers, and people on Chicago’s streets. Last week, Ashley and I talked on the phone—about respecting bodies, starting nonprofits, and the city she grew up in—while her son was taking a nap.
LENA: What is the Chicago Period Project?
ASHLEY: It’s an organization that helps out menstruating folks in Chicago who are having a hard time, and who don’t have access to menstrual supplies. We make period kits and pass them out [on the streets] or take them to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, transitional homes, mental health centers, and other community centers so they can hand out period supplies to people who need them. Our goal is to help people who are facing all sorts of hardships. We also want to take away the stigma behind having your period.
What is in a Chicago Period Project period kit?
Everything to help out with the sanitary aspects of having a period. The kits include enough supplies for one month’s cycle—tampons, pads, a water bottle, hand sanitizer gels or wipes, a new pair of underwear, and a little chocolate, because who doesn’t like chocolate when they’re on their period?
When did you decide to start the Period Project?
The election happened, and the next day I woke up and I was mad. I was upset. I was sad. A couple days later, it was still the same thing. There was this anger glooming over me, and I wanted to channel it into something else—something positive. I knew I wanted to help women. I wanted to help Chicago, the city I was born and raised in and have lived in all my life. And I wanted to help people who were having a hard time.
One of the things I remember most clearly, amidst all the heartbreak after the election, is what you posted to Facebook about how your reaction would be to raise [your son] as a loving child. I was so moved by that, and it seems the Period Project came from a similar place.
Yes. A lot of the issues we have now are because, unfortunately, mindsets are passed on through generations. We have to break those down. We have to raise our kids to be open and honest and loving. And one of the ways to do that is [teaching them to respect] other people’s bodies, but also to be aware of other people’s bodies. [My son] is about to be three, and I don’t want him to be one of those kids who grows up to say, “Ew, periods, ew that’s disgusting.” It’s the most natural thing we go through, and it’s anything but disgusting. I try to break down that stigma. A period is not something we should be afraid to talk about. I don’t mind telling my two-year-old son what it is, what it’s for, and what it does. We have honest talks about it.
In terms of wanting to help other people, how did those feelings gel into the Period Project?
I saw a video on Bustle about a woman who is homeless in New York. They followed her throughout a day on her period, and through different scenarios—like if she doesn’t have a tampon, what she has to use. And a lot of times it’s toilet paper, or dirty clothes, or the same pad for days at a time, and that’s obviously not healthy. I saw that and knew that was what I wanted to focus on.
What was the first step toward making the Period Project real?
Compartmentalizing everything in my head. My emotions, and how I wanted to organize it. And then, because I don’t have any experience in nonprofits, I went on a Facebook group for [Logan Square,] the neighborhood I’m in now. I figured it would be best to start small and local, so I reached out to a parents' group. Now five of us from the neighborhood get together every so often and have meetings to plan our next steps. We’re all moms. A lot of us are part-time workers, or full-time workers. We all have busy lives, but we get together whenever we can.
Do you have advice for someone thinking about starting their own nonprofit?
Get all your ducks in a row first. That’s a mistake I made. I was so excited to just get out there and get products donated and in the streets that I didn’t take care of all the legal things first. In my mind I was going, “But I just want to help people!” It’s time-consuming to do things like making a budget and applying for 501(c)(3) status, but if you don’t have all of that aligned, it limits how much money you can raise, and how seriously people take you.
For people who don’t know you, what part of Chicago did you grow up in?
Pilsen. Pilsen is my happy place. I’ve been in Logan Square for five years, but every single time I go back to Pilsen—I know this is a cliché, but it just feels like home. It’s the best neighborhood in Chicago. I might be a little bit biased, though.
This is veering off topic a bit, but you hear about Chicago a lot in the national news, and from people who unfairly spread fear. I moved to Chicago as an adult, but it’s still really painful to hear that, because there’s a serious separation between those perceptions and how people who live in Chicago experience it. And I wanted to know how you feel about that.
Unfortunately Chicago is one of the most segregated cities you’re ever going to live in or visit. That’s how it was built. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a minority-built neighborhood, but also an open neighborhood. I obviously know there’s a lot of violence and a lot of homelessness in Chicago, but my parents always told me, “Don’t judge anybody.” Granted, we were more privileged than other people, but we also had our struggles. We grew up with compassion. And that’s what I think this city needs. Compassion. There’s going to be violence anywhere you go. There’s going to be homelessness anywhere you go. But we can do a better job as Chicago residents if we reach out. If you see somebody on the street, don’t shy away from them. See how they need help.
If someone wants to help the Chicago Period Project, what can they do?
Spread the word. People can go to our Facebook page for updates, or on our website, chicagoperiodproject.org. They can email us at email@example.com to schedule pickups or drop-offs of items. Or they can donate money through our website.
Ashley, you’re the best. There’s no other way to say it.
I’m still trying to figure it out. [The Period Project has] had our good months, and we’ve had months that were pretty slow. Life happens, and kids throw tantrums, and sometimes I can’t do as much as I want to. But I figure as long as I do a little bit, I’m helping. I do whatever I can. ☮
This interview was edited for length and clarity, but really I could read what Ashley has to say all day.
This edition’s friend illustration is by Shelby Allison, the creative genius behind world-renowned bars including Lost Lake. (Esquire is into it.) On the last Tuesday of the month, Shelby and Lost Lake host Shift Ease, a party that raises money for good causes in Chicago. The next Shift Ease: July 25. Get it on your cal.
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