On a cold day in January, Lilly Crabb went to the principal’s office. She wasn’t in trouble; in fact, she had some concerns of her own.
Crabb, along with her friend Emma Clayburn, both sophomores at Hockinson High School, had grown frustrated that the school was failing to provide feminine hygiene products in their restrooms.
Starting in fall 2022, schools are required by law to provide menstrual hygiene products in all restrooms designated for female students and at least one gender-neutral restroom. Though a step forward, the girls felt not only is some of the language in the bill vague — particularly a lack of standards set for the products themselves — it didn’t do anything to address the fact that these products are still essential for students right now.
So, the girls decided to start buying and providing products for their fellow students themselves.
“We were just sick of it,” Clayburn said. “To most women, it’s a necessity. You need it. You can’t help it. You can’t control it.”
Tim Fox, Hockinson’s principal, said Crabb and Clayburn helped him reevaluate an issue he hadn’t considered in depth before.
“I have two younger daughters, and I’ve had to put myself in their shoes to think about this,” said Fox, who’s in his first year as principal. “It’s really opened my eyes. The law goes into effect next year, but I wanted to get ahead of this.”
Crabb had brought with her that day a box of suggested, higher-quality hygiene products like flushable wet wipes, spray deodorant, and the kinds of pads and tampons she felt her peers would like to use.
The only option students had to seek these kinds of products in schools were in the nurse’s office — an option that Crabb and Clayburn took issue with for several reasons. The two of them started buying products on their own and bringing them into the school without telling administration.
“We didn’t think it was fair that if students realized they didn’t have any products and that they had started their period, they’d have to walk across the school and ask the nurse for a tampon rather than just being able to keep it on the down-low,” Clayburn said. “It’s less embarrassing to not have to ask anyone for it. A lot of students weren’t comfortable with asking, so they’d just go home early.”
Not only that, Crabb said, the products that were provided in the nurse’s office weren’t the quality that she feels students would be comfortable using.
Fox said he didn’t take the issue lightly — and also didn’t want his students to keep paying for expensive products — and began speaking with district officials to see if the process of providing these products could be accelerated. A box that matched what Crabb had brought Fox in January was placed in a gender-neutral bathroom near the school’s library.
As those products quickly ran out, Crabb and Clayburn were once again faced with the same issue. Though they felt Fox had kept them in mind, things were still going unaddressed. They felt that for a lot of faculty members — particularly men — this issue wasn’t being recognized as crucial.
“For a lot of people, they’re not able to afford those products,” Clayburn said. “We saw friends who had never had any. One of my friends would go into the nurse’s office and take as many pads and tampons as she could so she could provide for her whole house because they couldn’t afford them.”
“For us, that means take as much as you need. Like if you can’t get them at home, take as much as you need and we will replace them,” Crabb added. “We want people to think school is a safe space, and in order for that to be a thing, these products need to be provided.”
In March, Clayburn finally decided they needed to keep doing more to help their fellow students. She started a GoFundMe one evening after school and awoke the next day to have received over $500 in donations.
“We didn’t expect it to go that fast,” Clayburn said.
Crabb credited a handful of mothers in the community with helping to spread the fundraiser on Facebook, but she was most happy to receive praise from her fellow students who felt they were doing a huge favor for everyone.
The girls shared a spreadsheet with Fox, detailing each of the products that they’d recommend be provided as soon as possible. Both personally and professionally, he said, he’s learned how he can take lessons from students in situations like this.
“As we go through the process, can we make sure we are actually providing what kids want?” said Fox. “I don’t want to sound crass, but anything that you’re putting into or onto your body, you want to make sure is good quality.”
As the district works to address Crabb and Clayburn’s concerns, Fox said he wants to start thinking a step further regarding how some students were taking these hygiene products on behalf of their families. He previously worked as a vice principal at Camas High School, which features a family-community resource center that provides similar products for local families.
“The family piece is a big deal, that’s something else that we may need to do,” Fox said. “Those are our next steps.”
Though past their initial goal, Crabb and Clayburn hope the fundraiser can continue to be used as an asset for their fellow students.
“We were kind of told that providing feminine products in schools was a controversy in that it wasn’t exactly something that everyone would be supportive of in our community,” Crabb said. “But it seems like the positive responses we’ve gotten say otherwise.”