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Fabrics are piled precariously on every available surface in the Days for Girls International center in Gainesville, little scraps and pieces of thread litter the floor, and boxes stacked as high as the door frame hold the fruits of their labor: reusable menstrual pads.
The Alachua County chapter of Days for Girls is offering 30 people a chance to take a free sewing class and learn what goes into making the reusable pads. A $2,000 grant from Assembly for Action, a community service conference organized by multiple organizations at the University of Florida, made the classes possible, said Radha Selvester, the chapter chair. The grant was awarded in October.
Days for Girls is an organization dedicated to sewing and providing reusable menstrual products to women in developing countries where they don’t have access to them. Girls often miss school due to their periods, Selvester said.
Of the $2,000 they won, Selvester’s chapter will use $900 to buy underwear for the menstrual kits and $200 to print and take care of other needs. She said the last $900 goes toward the class held on Mondays and Wednesdays until the end of February.
The three-hour class, taught at the chapter’s center at 1001 NE. 16 Ave., shows students how to sew different parts of the Days for Girls kits.
The kits come with five different parts: underwear, liners that are folded up to absorb the blood, shields that hold liners and clasp around the underwear, a washcloth and a small bar of soap. The pads are designed to hide stains and dry quickly when hung in the sun. As long as the pads are washed every day, sanitation is not an issue.
Students start by learning to sew a straight line and build up to different techniques. Lindsay Richards, a Days for Girls volunteer, said they go home with a bag they made themselves.
“It’s a good treat for sitting through three hours of learning how to sew,” she said.
Richards assists during the Wednesday classes while Karen Beaty, another volunteer, teaches. Leslie Klein teaches the Monday classes. Since they started at the beginning of January, most participants have been college-age students.
“It’s nice to see the younger generation trying new things,” Beaty said. “They surprise themselves because once you do sew, it’s not a big mystery.”
After taking the class, students are asked to volunteer with Days for Girls for at least nine hours, she said. Students may not learn everything on the checklists provided in class, but they’re welcome to continue down the list while volunteering.
“I’m amazed by how much volunteering they’re doing,” Beaty said. “They feel like they’ve accomplished something, so then they come back.”
Those who don’t want to continue sewing during their volunteer hours can also help with preparation by tracing, cutting and ironing fabric. Beaty’s granddaughter, Lindsey Orton, occasionally volunteers with her and focuses on that preparation.
Jessica Iligan, a UF student, also started with tracing and cutting when she first volunteered last spring with Days for Girls. She said she decided to take the sewing class to get more involved in the kit-making process.
“What we do is so easy, but in the end, it makes something that’s so helpful for other people,” Iligan said. “Pads, tampons, any menstrual products ¬— it’s something that we take advantage of here. It’s expensive, but you don’t think about how women around the world are affected, especially when they don’t have reliable access to them.”
People interested in working with Days for Girls can also attend a sew-a-thon, where a large group of volunteers spend hours putting together kits. Selvester, chapter chair, said the next sew-a-thon will be on Feb. 23 with UF’s Phi Sigma Rho National Sorority.