By Cassidy Delano, Contributing Writer
Free the T Project is a student-lead initiative that’s determined to make women’s sanitary products accessible for students on campus.
The project is currently run by seniors Alanna Atkinson and Emilee Eustis, being supervised by Dr. Kate Callahan. The team continues to promote and support student’s health needs while following COVID-19 restrictions, and lack of members.
“The group is funded through UMF’s health club. Free The T Project is part of the Health Club, but is not funded by the Student Senate like other clubs are.”
Free the T started in 2017 when a group of students in HEA410: Resource Management and Grant Writing sent a request to Procter & Gamble’s Tambrands in Auburn, ME, a consumer product company who makes tampons. In response to the request from UMF students, the company donated over 33,000 Tampax brand tampons to UMF.
In 2018 Dr. Callahan, a faculty member on campus, recruited students who had an interest in period poverty and providing tampons to college students. “Period poverty is when daily life is affected due to either not being able to afford menstrual products or not having access to them,” said Eustis.
In the first year of Free the T, the students that participated were tabling in the Student Center during common time. Students were able to see what the project is and also grab a bag of already packaged tampons.
The group also worked towards putting containers in every building’s bathrooms that offered free tampons in a range of sizes.
“The UMF Free the T Project is a way to relieve some of a person’s financial stress by making tampons accessible in every building on the UMF campus,” Atkinson said.
Last year tampon containers were found in every building. Now, due to COVID-19 restrictions there are tampon containers on the first floor of every building.
These restrictions have also affected the groups use of common time, as they cannot table during this time. Before this was a way for them to hand out free tampons, and get people thinking about the project. With this aspect gone, the group is having trouble spreading the word about the project, as well as finding help.
“Due to COVID we have had trouble finding volunteers to help,” Eustis said. “As of now, there are only two or three of us actively doing Free the T duties and searching for more to help.”
Eustis and Atkinson’s duties include refilling buildings each week, helping to run the social media pages (Facebook and Instagram), and any other responsibilities that need to be done as given to them by Dr. Callahan.
Eustis was able to give some insight on what the project has done for her. “Free the T brings not only joy to those who utilize it, but us on the project team as well. I have been a part of the project for three years and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Eustis said. “It has become such a huge part of my journey at UMF and it has become a huge part of my life!”
Atkinson feels the same. “UMF Free the T Project has really opened my eyes to how prevalent period poverty is just in this small community,” Atkinson said, “Free the T has been extremely beneficial in this community. I hope this project continues for years to come.”
Madison Lecowitch, Contributing Writer
Photo depicts left to right, Colby Stevens and Emilee Eustis surrounded by tampons in the Free the T office. (Photo courtesy of Madison Lecowitch)
Free the T, a student led initiative, aims to provide free tampons to UMF students, while promoting women’s health and providing professional development opportunities. There are now tampons available in 40 different bathrooms around campus, in both female and gender neutral bathrooms.
“We offer the free tampons in the containers in the bathrooms and then we also do tabling during commontime, Monday through Friday, so that’s another way students can access free tampons that are in bags,” said Assistant Professor of Community Health Education, Katie Callahan-Myrick, advisor of Free the T.
Callahan-Myrick knows that Free the T is in many ways beneficial to the UMF community. “When the students showed interest, it all focused around the idea of period poverty. Tampons are expensive, about $6-$7 per box per month, and students don’t have a lot of money and are living paycheck to paycheck anyways,” said Callahan-Myrick. “I would also like to think that it alleviates emergency stress for when things happen that are unexpected.”
Callahan-Myrick has been with the project since the Fall 2017 and has seen the hard work put into the program. “It has been a collaborative effort across the campus, and it’s just amazing to see the support we have had,” said Callahan-Myrick, “We have had help from the Campus Residence Council, and from faculty on campus. We’ve also had help from Student Senate and Student Life… They’ve helped us with containers, laminating and all of the things we needed to get to where we are at this point.”.
The project began two years ago, when a group of students heard about Free the Tampons, a worldwide initiative to help women who have less access to necessary resources, and decided that they wanted to see the program benefit students at UMF. They worked with Proctor & Gamble in Auburn, who provided a donation of 33,369 tampons.
Emilee Eustis, a junior double majoring in Community Health and Rehabilitation, understands the impact that Free the T has on many students across campus. “Having to buy feminine hygiene products is annoying and something I have to budget out each month,” Eustis said. “[Through Free the T] You get to learn about sustainability, partnerships and advocacy which is so important, especially in today’s society.”
Libby Shanahan, a junior Psychology major and Art minor, believes that the project is a step in the right direction. “I think that this sort of program is long overdue for UMF,” said Shanahan. “We really pride ourselves on being progressive, so it’s nice to see that people are rallying behind the movement.”
Shanahan understands the struggle of forgetting feminine hygiene products. “There have been plenty of times throughout the semester where I found myself without a tampon. It can be uncomfortable to ask for one in class, especially if there isn’t someone who you’re semi-familiar with,” Shanahan said. “Its takes the pressure off, and saves you from what sometimes can be an awkward conversation.”
Callahan-Myrick realizes that not everyone uses tampons. “We would love to expand to pads, but at this point we don’t have the resources to be able to,” said Callahan-Myrick. “I anticipate we have enough tampons for the next two years and so that gives us a little bit of a breathing room. I’m hoping that Proctor & Gamble will be willing to work with us in the future once we show them all the good and awesome things this program has done.”
Callahan-Myrick strongly believes that the project isn’t just about free tampons. “There’s a lot more to it than that. There is also the student opportunities [for those] who want to volunteer and work,” said Callahan-Myrick. “There’s professional development for any student who’s interested in health promotion programming— or nice volunteer activities— anything in terms of advocating for women’s health, or access for populations that don’t have access to resources.”
If anyone is interested in joining Free The T you can email Callahan at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can be followed on Facebook at, UMF Free the T Project.