18 June 2024

Dignity in a box: vending machines combat period poverty in Riverina

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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 Wendy Harper with library programs officer Beth Harrison

Wendy Harper with library programs officer Beth Harrison in front of the Share The Dignity vending machine at Wagga Wagga City Library. Photo: Wagga Wagga City Library.

Across the Riverina, a small network of unassuming pink vending machines is bringing dignity and relief to women experiencing “period poverty”.

The Share The Dignity vending machines dispense a free period pack, known as a #PinkBox, with six tampons and two pads at the push of a button.

The public machines are at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga City Library, Junee Library and Cootamundra War Memorial Libray.

Wagga City Council outreach services team leader Wendy Harper said on average, the library received about 10,000 visitors a month.

“We don’t often see people come to the counter to talk about it, but we do see that the stock inside the machine is moving,” Wendy said.

“Typically, a lot of women who menstruate are coming through the doors who may need the support.

“It’s an important need in the community that sometimes is missed. It is easy to find a food bank and find lists of ways to get support if you have financial difficulty … it’s not something people think about. It’s forgotten in some circumstances.”

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Wendy said the vending machines were vital in supporting those struggling with “period poverty” in the current financial climate.

“It’s a vital service we provide, and it’s not easily accessible to many people. There are not a lot of machines throughout the Riverina,” Wendy said.

“We’re lucky to be able to supply that need to the people who come through our doors.

“We’re open seven days a week. So, it does help that we’re fairly accessible.”

Wendy said hundreds of packs had been dispensed since the vending machine was installed in the library more than a year ago.

The initiative to install a Share the Dignity vending machine on the CSU campus was a collaborative effort backed by staff and students and supported by the university.

It was steered by former CSU equity, diversity, and inclusion advisor Nicholas Steepe and veterinary technology student Ricki-Sue King.

“I started the process of getting one put in at CSU with Nic lending a hand, and all five CSU campuses could get on board,” Ricki-Sue said.

“It made me extremely proud that I could make a difference in many lives.”

Ricki-Sue King

Charles Sturt University student Ricki-Sue King steered the initiative to install a Share the Dignity vending machine on campus in 2022. Photo: Supplied.

Rickie-Sue said that despite the ‘pink tax’ removal, fewer donations were made to the cause.

“We have received fewer donations during the March and August dignity drives and the November It’s In The Bag drive over the last few years due to the rise in the cost of living for all Australians.

“I plan to continue maintaining the vending machine at CSU Wagga Wagga for the foreseeable future and continue to be a vocal advocate for the cause.

“We have the next dignity drive coming up in August, however, monetary donations can be made all year round via the Share The Dignity website. No donation is too little.”

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Share the Dignity purchase the specially made period packs and supply them to the vending machines sponsored by businesses, as well as grants and donations.

Share the Dignity works to make a real, on-the-ground difference in the lives of women, girls, and those who menstruate who are experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence or doing it tough. They distribute period products to those in need and work to end period poverty in Australia.

Those wanting to support Share the Dignity can sponsor a vending machine or hold a birthday fundraiser to swap gifts for donations that fund period packs.

Visit Share the Dignity for more information and to make a donation.

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