City Council OKs free tampons and pads at Pittsburgh parks, pools and rec centers

“There are very positive implications of providing safe feminine care products for our women.”

Beth Van Dam / Flickr
Sarah Anne Hughes

Updated: April 4, 11:25 a.m.

Pittsburgh City Council voted 8-0 to give final approval to the bill Tuesday. It now goes to the mayor for a signature.

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Pittsburgh could provide free feminine care products at public facilities under a resolution being considered by City Council.

The resolution was co-introduced by Councilman Corey O’Connor and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak. It asks the departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works to take steps to provide free tampons and pads at city facilities including recreation centers, park shelters and swimming pools.

“It’s necessary,” O’Connor said of the resolution. “I’m surprised we haven’t had these conversations before.”

“This is an issue that we don’t talk about,” Rudiak said, “but it’s a part of life for half the population.” She added that periods can be “a scary thing” for young girls. “When you’re using a public facility, we want to make sure as a council … that we’re doing everything for girls using our facilities to feel safe.”

O’Connor said the directors of the two departments named in the resolution are “very supportive.”

Matt Singer, a legislative aide in O’Connor’s office who worked on the resolution, said it’s modeled after one in Columbus, where “the initial purchasing costs for products, dispensers and disposal receptacles was approximately $2,000,” he said by email. “At the time of passage of Columbus’ legislation, their city officials estimated that yearly stocking costs would range from $3,000 to $5,000, which were to be incorporated into its preexisting $170,000 yearly contract for sanitary paper products.”

But as Singer pointed out, Columbus’ initiative is broader than what’s proposed in Pittsburgh, which targets highly used facilities that will be identified by the departments and council.

“We also plan to work within the context of the City’s Market-Based Revenue Opportunities (MBRO) program, which could open the initiative up to sponsorship, which could further defray costs,” Singer said.

The resolution passed Standing Committee today with seven yeses and one abstention from Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith. Council is scheduled to take a final vote next week.

Jennifer England of 412 Food Rescue, whose On the Spot raises funds to donate tampons and pads, testified in favor of the resolution.

So did Patience Wilkerson, a registered nurse and board member for SisterFriend. That organization provides feminine care products to community groups such as Light of Life Ministries based on need. Wilkerson told The Incline she recently spoke to the CEO of the Pittsburgh Aids Task Force, which has a food pantry that doesn’t currently stock feminine care products despite a need from people who use it. She said SisterFriend will provide PATF with 60 kits.

“It’s extremely important from the self-esteem perspective for women,” Wilkerson said of the resolution. “I don’t want to get too graphic, but there are times when young girls have said to me, ‘I’ve had to use toilet paper.’ Medically, from a nursing perspective, it’s very unsafe to do that.”

That type of practice could lead to infections or a breakdown of the vaginal lining that makes girls and women more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections.

“There are very positive implications of providing safe feminine care products for our women,” she said.