It all started a few months ago when an Oak Park teenager learned of the struggles homeless women face every day garnering supplies for their menstrual cycles, and in a short time she’s raised thousands of dollars to help get them the products they need.

Lily Alter, 14, an Oak Park and River Forest High School student, said she first read about the problem in The New York Times and Al Jazeera, so it seemed a natural project to take on for a school English assignment challenging students to write a mock grant application.

Alter finished the class assignment but went a step further by bringing the project to life through the online fundraising website As of Monday, April 4, Alter had raised just under $4,000 for the so-called flow kits she plans to distribute at Housing Forward, the emergency shelter program that serves Oak Park and other neighboring communities. Known for decades as West Suburban PADS, Housing Forward works to transition homeless people into stable housing.

The “Flowing Forward” fundraising effort already has attracted donations from 123 people making mainly small contributions of $25 to $100.

“I never thought we’d raise this much money,” Alter said.

Alter says on her fundraising site that the flow kits offer supplies such as tampons, pads, pantiliners, sanitary wipes, ibuprofen and menstrual health pamphlets. She’ll be handing out the kits this week at Housing Forward.

“Homeless women are plagued with many issues: the threat of sexual assault, hunger, and dangerous streets,” the GoFundMe page states. “Many homeless women also lack access to menstrual supplies and sometimes have to choose between food or tampons and pads. When women don’t have access to tampons and pads, their menstrual hygiene can deteriorate and can cause serious health problems.”

Alter said she’s produced five different types of kits for women, depending on their age and severity of their menstrual cycles.

She said she got quick approval for the pilot project with Housing Forward and hopes to grow the program.

“There are about 15 women who come into Housing Forward on any given night; we have about 30 kits ready,” she said.

The program was put together in conjunction with First United Church of Oak Park and healthcare professionals at Housing Forward, Alter said.

Janet Gow, director of development and communications at Housing Forward, said the nonprofit’s nurse on staff, Betsy Rogers, has been helping coordinate the effort.

She said about 165 women visited Housing Forward’s shelters for the season last year, which runs between mid-September and mid-May. That’s out of about 580 people total.

The GoFundMe fundraiser page is at


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