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Chilliwack pledges to help end ‘period poverty’ by stocking its civic facilities

Non-profit AIM gave away $35K worth of menstrual, incontinence products last year for free
AIM co-founders Tiffany Francis and Miel Bernstein asking for menstrual/incontinence equity at Chilliwack city hall on April 18, 2023. (City of Chilliwack/ Youtube video screenshot)

Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove paused for a moment after being asked if he knew if menstrual products were being provided in the public washrooms at city hall.

“That’s a good question,” the mayor said, looking to staff. “I am getting an N-O.”

The non-profit AIM, which stands for ‘access to incontinence, menstrual’ products presented to council on April 18 with co-founders Tiffany Francis and Miel Bernstein.

“So when you say you want to do anything to help out that is the very first step, and we can totally help you with that,” Bernstein said to Popove, about the idea of stocking civic facilities and buildings run by City of Chilliwack.

“It starts right in our own backyard.”

The volunteer-run AIM has been making barrier-free menstrual and incontinence products available to those in need across the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland through a vast network of partners and volunteers since 2020.

While AIM gave away $800 worth of product the first year, that skyrocketed to $35,000 in product last year, which is a “massive amount of growth” for them.

“We realized we had to reach out to policy-makers like the folks here in order to change things on a bigger level,” Bernstein said.

RELATED: AIM taking shame out of menstruation, incontinence

Their three-pronged goal is to get product in all municipally run buildings, then all public spaces, and eventually all public and private work space washrooms.

Popove said that although city hall offers supplies, city staff will be looking into how to go about expanding that to any and all other civic facilities and buildings.

They told council that more people than they might think are impacted by what they call “period poverty,” Francis said.

Their outreach efforts to get product out across the region are breaking down the shame and stigma.

It’s become apparent that some have to choose between buying these products, or feeding their families, Francis noted, adding they never realized there were individuals in their community forced to make these terrible choices.

The need has grown astronomically. In Chilliwack they’ve partnered with local groups and organizations like the Chilliwack Community Cupboard, Chilliwack Community Services, as well as the Free Store at Skwah First Nation, food banks, free libraries, and more.

The focus was solely on product giveaway initially, but that has shifted to product education in AIM’s third year.

They asked council to think about what the difference was between offering toilet paper free of charge as a hygiene item, and stocking menstrual products as well at city hall.

“If this issue affected all of our population, they would be provided free everywhere around the world, in every bathroom,” Bernstein said.

AIM is working hard on those changes at their end.

Coun. Jeff Shields said he appreciated the toilet-paper analogy, and offered AIM his thanks, and congratulations on their success, and gaining momentum so quickly: “Keep it up, we’ll do what we can on this end.”

Popove noted: “The work you are doing is awesome.”

Coun. Nicole Read thanked the AIM reps for sharing their vision, adding she supports it, and looked forward to helping staff make it happen.

Coun. Mercer said “as a city we can do better in our washrooms,” and asked how staff could assist council on this file. He said he thought the menstrual/incontinence equity question was “a perfect fit” for some of the council work being done around inclusion, accessibility, and diversity.

RELATED: Action plan to make Chilliwack more inclusive, diverse and accessible

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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