Remember way back when the pandemic first began, and American stores ran out of toilet paper? Oh, those were the days, when panicked consumers cleared out shelves in an attempt to stockpile enough to last through a stay-at-home order of an indeterminate length.
The thing about hoarding essential products, however, is that while it may ease one household’s anxiety levels, it exponentially raises it among families who cannot afford these sold-out essentials. These items include like toilet paper, yes, hand sanitizer, and menstrual hygiene products.
In the United States, 1 in 5 women and girls don’t have access to pads and tampons. People who suffer from “period poverty” often rely on donations and free products from schools, but with distance learning being the new norm and excessive panic-buying reducing supplies at food banks, vulnerable members of society are struggling to access period products.
Luckily, one tikkun olam-minded brand has come to the rescue! The organic menstrual hygiene company The Organic Project — created by Jewish mom Denielle Finkelstein and her cousin and business partner, Thyme Sullivan — has teamed up with nonprofits to donate 130,000 period products to women in need during this time. The incredible initiative is part of a campaign they launched in March, in collaboration with Period Inc., called: “Tampons for All: Let’s get through this period by helping women and girls with theirs.”
“Over the last two years, we have set out as our mission to educate, enlighten, and be our authentic selves so that every girl and woman on the planet has access to healthy, 100% organic and eco-loving tampons and pads,” Finkelstein tells Kveller in a recent email interview.
As mothers themselves, Finkelstein and her cousin’s goal for TOP is to educate moms about safe, organic period products so they make healthy choices for their daughters. “The moms of our generation were the ones that made organic baby food for our kids,” she says, “and these moms are also the ones that did not change their period products to organic.”
To that end, TOP’s products are biodegradable and made with 100% organic cotton. But that’s not all: For every purchase made, the company donates menstrual hygiene products to schools, shelters, nonprofits, and organizations to help women suffering from period poverty.
We caught up with Denielle while she was self-isolating at home, and she shared with us her thoughts about running a business during a pandemic, her Jewish identity, and what we need to do to destigmatize menstrual health.
How has running a company under COVID-19 been like for you? Have you faced any new challenges or found silver linings?
We are adapting to our new normal and navigating all of this both personally and professionally. We continue to run the TOP business while we are at home with our families, keeping everyone safe, well fed, taking on the role of teacher and creating a new routine. This is hard for everyone and what we do for each other during this time will be critical for the future of our families and business. We are all in this together.
Tell me about your relationship with your co-founder and cousin Thyme. How has your relationship grown since becoming business partners? As businesswomen, how did you choose to combine forces and focus on feminine care?
I am so grateful for the personal and professional relationship I have with Thyme Sullivan. We are cousins as well as co-founders. Our fathers were first cousins and unfortunately, they both died young. Our families had lost touch over the years and I had not seen Thyme in over 20 years. That changed when I reached out to Thyme through Facebook and we reconnected over lunch and talked for hours.
At that time, we were both at a crossroads with our jobs. We were both seasoned executives at large corporations who were missing out on being parents, not fulfilled in our jobs, and looking for more meaning in the next stage of our careers. We were the moms that cared about everything organic, what we fed our kids, changing our beauty products but we NEVER had changed our tampons. Thyme and I had both been thinking about organic tampons because our daughters, Josie and Reese, were coming of age. We decided to take the risk together and go out on our own to create TOP for our daughters.
How has Judaism influenced your life?
Judaism is very important to my family and me. I didn’t grow up Jewish but converted before I got married to my college sweetheart, Matt. It was my gift to him and our future family together.
Religion was not central to my upbringing but family was. Weekend dinners, holidays, and celebrations were about love, being together, traditions, and wonderful meals. When I shared with my parents that I was converting, they both responded, “We love you, we love Matt, and, most importantly, are so happy that you found love.”
My family is so important to me and this is what I love most about being Jewish. I fell in love with my husband, his family, the rich culture and traditions. The beauty of Judaism to me is that so many of the values I grew up with are central to Jewish values and how we are raising our children now.
Tikkun olam is a top Jewish value. Tell me about how TOP’s values and philanthropic efforts align with your Jewish identity
Giving back has always been important to my family and me. Whenever, whomever, and wherever we can, we do. When we started TOP and learned more about period poverty, both Thyme and I were in complete agreement about the importance of building a business to drive positive social change. There are too many women and girls in the U.S. who won’t reach their fullest potential because they don’t have the products they need to manage what happens to them naturally. We feel strongly that this next generation of women (our daughters) has the power to continue to change the world and period products should not be in their way.
It takes a lot of courage to break menstrual taboos. What emotional roadblocks have you faced throughout the process, and how have you grown since creating TOP? Have your attitudes towards other societal taboos changed?
We are so proud that we have started this conversation and are helping to change the narrative for women and, most importantly, our daughters. At the root of this business, we did this for our daughters. We wanted them to have better products and remain confident in themselves through this milestone, as well for us as moms to be able to talk openly to them about their periods. We love it when we hear stories now from our friends and family about the comfort level that their kids have about talking about periods. One friend’s daughter named her goldfish Tampon, and another helped organize a giving party with her middle school friends.
Tell me about the period parties and giving parties TOP organizes.
Our parties started with our own daughters and their friends as “Period Parties” or “Tampons and Tacos”. It was an opportunity to bring six to eight girls together and talk to them about periods, answer questions, celebrate this moment, and allow a safe space for them to share their thoughts.
What we know about these girls is that they want to help and change the world, and we quickly incorporated the give back into our parties. We have seen lots of success with our “Giving Parties” at middle and high schools, colleges and organized community events. It is a great opportunity to share with these young women the issue of period poverty and how they can help to make a change in the life of another woman or girl by creating a kindness bundle of period products and thoughts of encouragement.
Image via Denielle Finkelstein