How local organization Flo Code is helping women reclaim their power.
By Kasee Bailey, Illustration by Chika Otuata, Headshot courtesy of Flo Code
Consider for a moment all the money women pay for menstruation products. Consider also the tax added to those products. Consider that the average woman spends more than six years of her life having a period, and that between tampons, pads, over-the-counter painkillers to alleviate menstrual cramps, new underwear and additional period-related needs, she will pay out about $18,000 during her lifetime. Now consider how homeless, displaced and impoverished women and girls meet such costs. The stark reality is often, they don’t. Something needs to change.
Lamanda Ballard knows she can’t do it all. But she’s trying. As founder and executive director of nonprofit Flo Code, she has a hefty to-do list: provide menstrual products to the homeless and underserved, help educate the public about women’s health, end the stigma surrounding menstruation, work for menstrual equality within Texas and aid women in reclaiming their power and restoring their dignity.
Ballard’s journey to Flo Code began two years ago, when she moved to Austin from North Carolina with just a carful of belongings and an interest in philanthropy. She saw she could make a positive impact for women during her work with the Austin chapter of Homeless Period Project before deciding to branch out and start Flo Code.
“It’s crazy how everything worked out in my favor, just one thing after another,” Ballard says. “It’s been beautiful watching the journey.”
In a short amount of time, Ballard and her Flo Code team have accrued a lengthy resume of accomplishments.
Flo Code’s recent efforts to help victims of Hurricane Florence led to 30,000 pads, tampons, panty liners and personal wipes donated for disaster victims. Last year, those in need after Hurricane Harvey received 100,000 individual menstrual products. And in the Austin area alone, Flo Code has donated more than 150,000 products and collaborated with more than 20 businesses.
“The beautiful thing about Austin is that people want to help, but you have to show them that it’s going towards a great cause, that the work you’re doing is purposeful, in order to get them involved,” Ballard says. “That is one thing I’ve learned very quickly.”
“We’re providing additional resources to give women options,” Ballard says. “We don’t want to limit what we’re providing to them. And it’s not just women at this point. It’s also the girls that are in school. We just want to make sure we keep everybody at the top of our list, not just homeless shelters.”
But even giving nationwide and anywhere-it’s-needed aid, Ballard doesn’t shy away from hitting the streets locally and providing products and resources directly to women in need. Often, she pulls her car over at stoplights to talk with homeless women and hand out supplies, with each encounter never ceasing to surprise her.
“As women, they stick together and are willing to share with each other,” Ballard says. “It’s like you’re restoring their dignity, and they’re also empowering each other. That’s the beauty of it. I learn something about them and then I learn something about myself, that the work [Flo Code] is doing is useful and is needed within the community, so to just keep pushing.”
Mayor Steve Adler proclaimed Oct. 3 Flo Code Day, enabling the organization to celebrate its host of successes in the community only one year into its official operation.
“We do what we can when we can with what we have and that’s what I love about what we do,” Ballard says. “It’s been quite a journey.”
But as Ballard is keenly aware, the fight to get women and girls in need these monthly necessities continues, and therefore, so does her important journey.
It’s like you’re restoring their dignity, and they’re also empowering each other.
There are numerous ways you can help Flo Code ensure women and girls in need in the Central Texas community have access to essential menstruation products.
1. Flo Parties: Every couple months, Flo Code hosts community Flo Parties, events during which the group collects local donations to create Flo Packs, which include all the menstruation-product basics. To date, Flo Code has distributed more than 50,000 Flo Packs to local organizations, businesses, schools, and women and girls in need. You can even host a Flo Party of your own.
2. Product donations: Flo Code accepts donations of tampons, pads, panty liners, personal wipes, new menstrual cups and new underwear. Supporters can mail donations to Flo Code, visit area drop-off locations or shop directly through the organization’s Amazon Wish List.
3. Monetary donations: Donating just $5 to Flo Code covers a woman in need’s period for at least two months since with a mere $4.28, the nonprofit can purchase eight tampons, 16 pads, 40 panty liners and one pack of personal wipes. For more information about how to get involved, visit flocode.org