They volunteer with compassion for the dignity of others
It was December 2022, and Jami Amador was going through a tough time. Her husband had lost his job at the beginning of the month, money was tight, and the family had two little boys under the age of five to feed, clothe, and care for.
When Jami made a regular visit to Hope House, a nonprofit that offers free self-sufficiency programs to young mothers ages 15 to 25, she was surprised and delighted to receive a distinctive blue and black Dignity Grows™ tote bag filled with products she could use for herself and her whole family—deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, wipes, and menstrual pads.
“At that point, we didn’t have any spare money for hygienic stuff,” Jami recalls. “Prices are rising all the time, and you don’t realize how much you spend on these things until you don’t have the money to buy them.”
Joanna Sorenson, a Grant Development Officer at Hope House, knows how much the Dignity Grows™ totes mean to Jami and all her clients.
“Whenever folks ask, ‘What do you need donated?’, I say ‘We need the things that are least fun to buy, including personal and feminine hygiene products,” Sorenson says. “These supplies empower women in a dignified way. Safety in your own skin is huge.”
By January 2023, Jami had emptied the tote. “There is endless need,” she says. “I could use another one!”
Thanks to the devotion of a group of caring JEWISHcolorado volunteers, Jami can look forward to receiving another tote, compliments of Dignity Grows™, a national 501(c)(3) founded in 2019 by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford in Hartford, Conn. Dignity Grows™ takes a hands-on approach to addressing “period poverty”—inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products, including but not limited to sanitary products.
On a March Sunday morning in Denver, more than 20 women and one man gathered at JEWISHcolorado where a table was loaded with bins of hygienic products. By the end of the morning, more than 200 empty totes would be filled, each with a month’s supply of essential menstrual and hygiene products, packed by volunteers who all have their own reasons for helping women and families they may never meet.
Even before the group of volunteers arrived, Cindy Altberger, the JEWISHcolorado Dignity Grows™ Committee Chair, was buzzing around the space setting up for the day. Altberger had become involved through JEWISHcolorado Women’s Philanthropy, but, she said, “it’s become so much more to me.”
“The need is so great because people are out of work and finances are difficult for everyone,” she said. “I also think period poverty is starting to get the momentum that it needs and deserves.”
In her remarks introducing herself and the project, Altberger tied Dignity Grows™ volunteer efforts back to Judaism.
“Dignity Grows™ embodies the Jewish values of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and tzedakah, charity and justice, by bringing those values into the community at large,” she said. “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
As the volunteers made their way around the tables, filling blue totes one by one, they socialized, connecting with old friends and meeting new ones, often talking about what had brought them there that morning.
For Michelle Striker, volunteering for Dignity Grows™ was a birthday gift from her mother, three cousins, and two friends. “I said, ‘Instead of going out for dinner to celebrate, let’s go volunteer,” Striker said. “The fact that people who menstruate don’t have access to the products they need makes me sad. To do something to help them—on my birthday, with my family and friends—is meaningful to me.”
Lisa Miller is retired after spending decades in the restaurant business, “watching over” longtime employees who were loyal to her. Volunteering for Dignity Grows™ gives her a chance to still “watch over” someone in need. “Even though wages have gone up, the price of everything has gone up,” she said. “This is an immediate way to help people and you can be in the moment, thinking about others not yourself.”
When Gayle Brody moved to Denver from South Florida 18 months ago, she was looking for a way to get involved in the community. She has volunteered multiple times for Dignity Grows™ and on this day, she brought a neighbor with her. Brody also volunteers at Jewish Family Service (JFS), another place where people can receive Dignity Grows™ totes.
“When a woman comes into JFS with a stroller, and I see her walk home pushing a child, and she has a bag of groceries over one arm and a Dignity Grows™ tote on her other arm, it gets to me,” she said. “There is such a need, and this takes so little of our time to help. Who cannot spare the time?”
Mark Polansky is the only man in the room, and he is enjoying every minute of it, especially because he gets to spend time on a cause his daughter, Cindy Altberger, cares about. “This is a wonderful initiative to bring dignity to women who don’t have access to these products,” he says as he fills another tote. “This is not a gender thing—this is a dignity thing.”
Diane Cushman Neal, Founder and President of Donations For Dignity, spoke via Zoom to the group who filled totes on Sunday morning. Donations For Dignity is a Colorado initiative founded to fight the hidden crisis in our neighborhoods – hygiene poverty. Dignity Grows™ and Donations For Dignity share the common goal – fighting period poverty and supporting personal hygiene in Colorado. Donations For Dignity commissioned a study, Colorado Study on Women’s Period Poverty, Diaper Need and Hygiene Poverty and Cushman Neal shared a few key data results:
- 47 percent of Colorado women currently menstruating had experienced period poverty;
- 57 percent of women with children in diapers struggle with diaper needs;
- 60 percent of women with children struggled to purchase basic hygiene products in the last 12 months.
“We are seeing increased need across the state and within our own Jewish community,” Cushman Neal said. “Access to hygiene is the most cost-effective way to reduce illness because you have more secure parents, healthier babies, and a teen who can attend school while on her period. Together, we are creating partnerships that can change lives.” Donations For Dignity generously provided 4,000 Aunt Flow pads for the totes.
The 200 totes filled by the volunteers on this Sunday morning were delivered to JFS where they will be distributed to anyone who needs in them in a private and dignified manner. Lisa Soicher, Jewish Community Liaison at JFS, spoke to the volunteers at the packing party about the increase in community need that JFS is seeing. JFS is serving three times the number of clients needing food assistance than they were helping before the pandemic. At one point, a day when 100 families visited the Weinberg Food Pantry seemed like a lot. Now, JFS is setting new records each week, with 165 families coming through on a recent day.
“We continue to send the message that personal hygiene is just as essential to our well-being as food,” Soicher said. “With Donations for Dignity and Dignity Grows™, we ensure that clients will not have to choose between buying gas to get to work and essentials like period and hygiene products.”
Michelle Striker, who serves on the Dignity Grows™ committee, ended the morning with an appeal for help. Because Dignity Grows™ buys in bulk and receives a deep discount, it does not take a large donation to make a difference. For as little as $10, she told the group, they could provide someone in need with a month’s supply of hygiene and menstrual products—products that would cost $40 if they were bought at a store.
The donors and the recipients may never meet, but if they did, Jami Amador knows what she would say.
“I would thank them because they are blessing a family that is experiencing a need,” she said. It’s just so good to have that ‘clean feeling.’”