- Associated Press - Sunday, August 27, 2017

MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - While the nation was absorbed with the seeds of hatred sown by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, Adriana Flores was plotting to grow a tiny bit of love in her community.

Flores launched a twist on the ‘free little library’ craze. That’s where small cupboards are stationed by sidewalks and offer free books to passers-by.

Instead of books, Flores it stocking hers with tampons, pads and other personal care items free for the taking.

It’s located at Edgewood Village, a large low-income housing complex in Meridian Township. Flores is counting on a Michigan State University honor society and other donors to keep it stocked.

Half of you will immediately understand why Flores‘ notion to offer free feminine hygiene products is important. Tampons and pads are pricey and they fall into the category of “necessities” not “luxuries.”

Flores found out that low-income women must find a way to pay for the products as food assistance money used to pay for other items at the grocery store won’t cover personal care items, including toilet paper.

A 2009 graduate of East Lansing High School, Flores grew up in a middle-class family and hasn’t struggled economically herself. She lives in a neighborhood near Edgewood Village, and just earned a master’s in social work degree from Michigan State University.

But it’s the same drive that inspired her to study social work that gave her the idea for the box.

“My hope is it will make a difference in someone’s life … so they know they are OK and people do care,” she told the Lansing State Journal .

Flores did her homework. She contacted a woman in Fayetteville, Alabama who first put food in her box for her neighbors (a similar effort in Grand Ledge has met with resistance from city officials). She met with Lysne Beckwith Tait, who in 2015 started Helping Women Period with her friend, Amy Stephenson.

Helping Women Period, based in East Lansing and Lansing, started out to be a one-time fundraising event to supply needy women with hygiene products. But the demand was so great, it’s grown into an all-volunteer nonprofit that’s given away $20,000 in products so far this year at food banks and other locations.

Tait was the one to suggest that Flores locate her box near a Head Start school.

“I think it’s an amazing idea, and I wish we could get it next to all the Head Start schools,” she said.

Tait said women without resources turn to “MacGyver things,” such as using gas station paper towels or toilet paper. Her organization focuses on disposable products because reusable products on the market require access to clean facilities. Homeless women, for example, don’t have that option to clean the product.

She said her organization will work with MSU Phi Alpha Honor Society, an MSU social work chapter, to keep it stocked.

Flores found an eager partner at Edgewood Village to locate her box, which she calls Empathy and Equity box, or E-squared.

Awna Ari, director of programming at Edgewood Village Network Center, said the village has a closet inside the complex’s activities center that offers free items. It’s been easier to stock clothing than personal items, though, and Flores‘ project will help.

“I love it. I’m excited,” Ari said.

It also offers anonymity, allowing women to quietly take the items they need.

Flores said her father’s friend, Craig Hiner of Williamston, created the box for her and donated materials. She got kids at the complex to put their handprints in paint on the wood to decorate it.

Her husband, Hector Fajardo, sunk the posts into concrete.

“I would love if this would become some kind of movement,” she said.

Flores wants to work with community groups to help people. She’s searching for a job.

She started out with the idea for a box as a personal project, but then used it to complete a requirement for a graduate course on organizing.

Flores received a 3.5 on the project, the equivalent of a B-plus.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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