Twelve Donations meet Toronto’s changing menstrual needs

4 February 2021 / by Sam Dharmasena
one person passing along a menstrual product to another

Twelve Donations is a grassroots organization that works towards ending period poverty in Toronto. They offer a free customizable service that provides menstrual products to shelters, mutual aid projects and individuals who need them. CJRU speaks with Twelve founder, Will Hanlon, about the intentions behind their work and impact in the community.

Period poverty is a term that acknowledges how periods can prevent menstruators from fully participating in daily life. This is a result of the financial costs related to menstrual products, pain relief medication and more. There have been steps taken to alleviate the severity of period poverty, like when tax on menstrual products was removed in 2015 but there is still a long way to go.

“This is a health need. When we have menstruators who are using alternatives like rags, newspapers, and tissues in order to menstruate, how can we say we have universal healthcare?” Hanlon asks. 

Twelve refers to their users as menstruators, recognizing that not all women menstruate, and not all who menstruate are women. Hanlon isn’t a menstruator himself but he believes that everyone can play a role in eliminating period poverty. His mother’s relationship to period poverty has greatly influenced his career choices and passion for gender equity. He recalls how hard she worked as a single mother to two boys, stretching each dollar and prioritizing her sons’ needs before her own. 

Hanlon holding a container or menstrual products in front of his car
Will Hanlon | Photo courtesy of Twelve Donations.

Hanlon also credits Red Door Shelter as an integral part of Twelve’s beginnings. Through Red Door, Hanlon learned about common pain points such as a lack of storage space and how often shelters were receiving menstrual products they don’t need. He recalls a shelter that primarily served newcomers to Canada receiving a donation of 800 tampons but all their clients preferred pads. As a result, this donation remained in storage for three years until Twelve relocated it to another shelter looking for tampons.

These interviews led to their original model and organization name, Twelve.  They would partner with shelters for a minimum of twelve months and deliver customized menstrual products during this time. In this model, shelters could request relevant menstrual products and quantities as their client base changed. As the organization grew, Twelve added more options that supported clients in moving programs and organizations seeking one-time donations. Hanlon adds that this versatility has become especially important in the midst of the pandemic. Unhoused Torontonians are opting out of shelters to limit their exposure to COVID-19 and Hanlon explains that Twelve is working hard to meet menstruators where they are. With this goal in mind, Twelve has recently committed to stocking local community fridges for a year. 

“We do see a lot of people [during the pandemic] moving from shelters to encampments. Or people who are able to pay rent but don’t have that financial security anymore to afford menstrual products. So it’s really important that we get the products where they’re being used. Part of that was our partnership with community fridges and pantries which is a 24/7, 365 [days] open-access community fridge and pantry. Since October, we’ve donated 13,000 menstrual products to them.  Just allowing people outside of the typical public services, use of safe and healthy menstrual products,” Hanlon explains. 

To hear more about Twelve Donations from Will Hanlon, listen to the interview below.