Volunteers hand out hundreds of tampons and pads to Grenfell survivors left with nothing

'It ia always surprising sanitary products are something nobody ever thinks to donate. Everyone brings food, money, and clothes, but forgets them,' says lead campaigner

Maya Oppenheim
Friday 23 June 2017 17:11 BST
In the UK sanitary products are classed as a “luxury, non-essential item” and taxed at five per cent
In the UK sanitary products are classed as a “luxury, non-essential item” and taxed at five per cent (AFP/Getty)

Hundreds of sanitary products have been donated to victims of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe which claimed at least 79 lives.

Flow Aid, who campaign to make sanitary products free for homeless women, issued an urgent plea for sanitary wear in the immediate aftermath of the devastating west London inferno.

In the UK, sanitary products are classed as a “luxury, non-essential item” and taxed at five per cent. On top of this, sanitary wear itself is costly and research recently found the average woman spends over £18,000 on their periods over their lifetime.

For this reason, Hayley Smith, founder of the campaign, told The Independent it was imperative more sanitary wear was donated to survivors of the horrific blaze which destroyed a 24-storey tower block over a week ago.

“While I was keen to stick to Flow Aid’s initial idea of solely giving sanitary products to women who are homeless, I figured these Grenfell residents are homeless now and sanitary and toiletries are of course expensive,” she explained.

“When you have got no home, food and shelter come first, that is where your priorities and money go, and sanitary stuff is not on your mind.”

She said tampons and sanitary pads were often the last thing people thought to donate to people in need.

“It is always surprising that sanitary products are something that nobody ever thinks to donate,” she noted. “Everyone brings food, money, and clothes, but forgets them. Sanitary wear is the type of thing nobody wants to think about. Also because it’s a woman’s problem, men don’t think about it.”

“They are products that are needed and needed daily but they are still hard to get people to donate.”

Ms Smith noted the reluctance to donate such products might be linked to the taboo which still surrounds female menstruation. What’s more, she suggested taboo could also mean many survivors would be apprehensive and anxious to explicitly ask for them to be donated.

“Having your period can feel embarrassing – not everybody wants to ask for a pad or tampon - and girls as young as 13 start their periods and they will be even less confident about asking for them,” she added. “But not having the right products can cause so many health and hygiene problems.”

Ms Smith, who launched the campaign around two years ago, said she was inundated with people wanting to help Grenfell survivors after she put a call out on social media. She explained she has received four deliveries of crates of products, adding: “I have a spare room full of sanitary products.”

She has been then delivering the sanitary wear directly to community centres, shelters and other distribution points in and around the Grenfell Tower area.

But the campaigner said she had received no donations from companies who make sanitary products and had not received one single donation from them since launching the campaign despite trying.

She was adamant that the need for such products for Grenfell residents was not about to disappear or slow down, saying: “I’m just going to keep going with it. People always need them, this is not going to be something which is solved in a short time, it will be nice for residents to know there is a limitless supply of stuff.”

The number of victims confirmed or presumed dead in the deadly blaze still stands at 79 but said efforts to work out who was inside the burning building at the time are still underway and the number is expected to increase further.

Sorrow and shock has rapidly turned into fury as it has become clear the deadliest blaze to shake the capital since the Second World War could have been prevented.

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