NY Times Neediest Cases: At Food Pantries, Addressing the Needs of Women

By Sara Aridi
Dec. 17, 2019
Emon Hassan/The New York Times

In 2016, Food Bank started the Woman to Woman campaign to raise awareness about so-called period poverty. The goal is to bridge women with means with women with needs.

You tell a woman that another woman can’t afford tampons and pads, you have her attention.
–Margarette Purvis, President and CEO

When Latoya Ramjit was growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, her mother would travel to food pantries in New Jersey or Staten Island in hopes of finding better products than those in their neighborhood.

In her own household in Brooklyn, with her husband and their three children, ages 1, 9 and 13, Ms. Ramjit, now 33, found herself facing similar challenges in providing for her family.

The struggle with food insecurity became a bit easier for her three years ago, when a pantry opened in her daughter’s elementary school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

“It’s a blessing,” Ms. Ramjit said. “It helps out a lot.”

The family lives in a three-bedroom apartment in a public housing complex near the school. For about five years, Ms. Ramjit’s husband, who is a mechanic, was the sole breadwinner, though she is returning to work part time this month as a counselor in an after-school arts program at her daughter’s school.

She receives food stamps, benefits that the Trump administration recently vowed to curtail, but said they were not always enough for the whole family, as prices in her neighborhood have risen over the years. She turns to the school’s pantry once every month or two.

Roughly two years ago, Ms. Ramjit came across items she had never seen at pantries before: pads and tampons. “I used to spend, like, a lot of money on just feminine products alone,” she said in an interview at her daughter’s school. She would buy about $25 worth of products every month. Over time, that adds up.

“This is not something that we should be paying for,” she said. “We can’t control our bodies. This is a need — it’s not a want.”

The menstrual products at the pantry came from Food Bank for New York City, one of 200 food banks affiliated with Feeding America, a beneficiary agency of the The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. This year, the Food Bank received a grant from the Neediest Cases Fund endowment for its Woman to Woman initiative, which provides menstrual and personal care products to thousands of women, as well as to those who need incontinence items.

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