Ending Period Poverty: Interview With Lamanda Ballard, Founder Of Flo Code
We sat down with Lamanda Ballard, founder of Austin-based nonprofit Flo Code to talk about period poverty, the role of Black women-led organizations in the menstrual justice space and how our community can show up and take action. Founded in 2017, Flo Code provides free menstrual products to the homeless and underserved, helping women across Austin reclaim their power and restore their dignity.
What inspired you to start Flo Code?
Shortly after moving to Austin I started volunteering at a homeless shelter downtown. One of the directors mentioned that they never received enough menstrual products as donations to truly serve their community's needs. So, I thought it would be a great idea to collect pads and tampons on behalf of the shelter. After hosting just 3 community service events, we had over 300 volunteers involved and received over $18K in donations! Right off the bat, this empowered us to help Hurricane Harvey victims who had lost everything due to the storm. Ultimately, what started off as a small project and volunteer opportunity with friends turned into Flo Code.
What’s the difference between period poverty and menstrual equity?
Most people don’t realize that period poverty and menstrual equity aren't the same thing. I’ve even seen companies run campaigns framing people paying taxes on menstrual products as "period poverty" and that’s just not accurate.
Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products, reproductive health education, bathrooms and clean water. It’s a global issue that people work to address in other countries, and yet it often isn't adequately addressed within our own communities at home. Period poverty is also a shared experience among those in low income communities.
Menstrual equity refers to increasing the education, availability and affordability of period products for those who have limited access. As an organization, it’s so important for our team to teach volunteers to be a voice and advocate for those who go unheard.
What’s the role of Black women-led nonprofits in the menstrual justice space?
Black women-led nonprofits in the menstrual justice space have been treated unfairly by larger corporate organizations like PERIOD (which was previously run by Nadya Okamoto). The issue at the heart of this is the misconception that larger organizations like theirs are *leading* the movement towards menstrual equity, which simply isn’t true. There are many Black women-owned nonprofits in the menstrual justice space, and these organizations have been systematically silenced and manipulated by PERIOD. In many cases, their organization went as far as asking Black-owned nonprofits to dissolve their organizations in order to be acquired by them.
"Black-women led nonprofits in the menstrual justice space have been treated unfairly by larger corporate organizations like PERIOD."
To take credit for the work done by others, to ask Black women to dissolve their nonprofits, and to receive major sponsorships that prevent smaller nonprofits from partnering with these companies, is all representative of the performative activism we constantly see in this space. It makes our work harder, but thankfully we all partner together to provide support, share resources, and speak our truth.
For more information about the treatment of Black women-owned nonprofits in this space, I recommend reading A Call for Accountability: Anti Blackness in the Menstrual Justice Space by Ilieri Jaiyeoba.
What's the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your journey with Flo Code? What are you most proud of?
I think the biggest challenge with any small nonprofit starting out is funding infrastructure. Without a grant writer it’s really hard to host as many service events or create new programs that will allow volunteers to continuously stay involved. But, we’ve been fortunate enough to remain 100% community funded over the past 3 years and we’re able to serve over 70+ schools, nonprofits, shelters, and organizations bi-monthly. That’s what I’m the most passionate and proud of!
How can we get involved and take action, even during the pandemic?
Periods don’t stop because of a pandemic. There are still people in need. If you’re interested in getting involved in the work we do, I recommend purchasing menstrual products, creating period kits at home (including 5 pads and 5 tampons in quart size bags), and passing them out as you pass homeless women/trans men. With shelters reaching capacity, a lot of them are forced to free bleed with limited access to clean water. Help restore dignity by providing access to those in need.
"Periods don’t stop because of a pandemic. There are still people in need."
Another meaningful way to get involved is by donating and volunteering with nonprofits in the menstrual justice space. No donation is ever too small! With a donation of just $10, Flo Code can purchase 46 pads, 40 liners, 32 tampons and 2 packs of wipes. You can donate here or by texting FLOCODE to 44-321. And of course, $5 of every Disobedient Woman Tee goes back directly to our organization, so you can look cute *and* help end period poverty!
What's next for Flo Code?
We’re excited to launch more chapters across Texas and implement even more programs that will empower us to keep educating our community. The HB311 bill passing in Texas would be a HUGE win for everyone focused on reproductive health, education, and access. This bill focuses on waiving the sales taxes of menstrual products (finally). You can track the status of the bill here. One life goal we’re manifesting is to collaborate with Beyoncé’s BeyGood Foundation to serve those in need around the world, but most importantly, in Texas!