Downtown Oak Park FILE

Locals experiencing period poverty are about to get some relief. Through June 18, the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce is collecting donated menstrual products and diapers, as well as cash donations to go toward purchasing such necessities for the Oak Park Community Fridge, located at Carnival Grocery, 824 S. Oak Park Ave.

“There’s no way that women do not feel a monthly burden when it comes to the expense of their menstrual products,” said Melissa Elsmo, who volunteers at the fridge and is serving as an advisor for the drive. Elsmo is also Oak Park Eats editor for Wednesday Journal.

Since its opening, the fridge has become an invaluable resource for many dealing with financial insecurities that prevent them from having the ability to buy groceries and other supplies. 

“I’m consistently amazed but not surprised by how much use the community fridge gets,” said Elsmo. “It stands to reason that one of the shelves outside of the community fridge should hold feminine hygiene products to help defray these monthly costs. The same logic applies to diapers for children.”

The initiative is being championed across communities, with the collaboration of the Berwyn, Forest Park and Maywood chambers of commerce through the Women in Business affinity group. 

Those who would like to participate are not required to be chamber members or a part of the Women in Business group. The chambers welcome anyone to make a donation at any of the six collection boxes located in Oak Park and River Forest. Volunteers will empty the collection boxes periodically.

Boxes can be found at the Hearing Place, the River Forest Community Center, Lively Athletics, Brewpoint Coffee, Centre Physical Therapy and Fuller Health Group, which is managed by OPRF chamber vice president Sam Yousif. 

Greater access to menstrual products is a cause particularly close to Yousif, according to Liz Holt, the executive director of the OPRF chamber.

“He’s so passionate about this,” said Holt. “I mentioned we were doing this at a board meeting and suddenly he’s flooding my inbox with toolkits and information and links to articles about how important it is to family health.”

Holt hopes more men will follow Yousif’s lead by getting involved with the drive, not only to help others but to broaden their understanding.

“It isn’t a men-versus-women topic,” said Holt. “This is an everybody issue.”

To make things easier on men or other people who may feel embarrassed buying a box of tampons or pads, cash donations will also be accepted but actual products are preferred. 

The drive ends June 18 with the first in-person Women in Business meeting since the pandemic hit last year. The one-hour meeting will be held in the parking lot of the grocery store at 9 a.m. that morning and will likely be the first opportunity for many of the group’s members to meet each other in person, as all recent meetings have been conducted over Zoom.

“We want people to grab a pack of diapers or a pack of tampons or whatever, come out and meet us there,” said Holt.

 The goal of this drive is to collect enough products to keep the fridge stocked for six months, but it also has the added benefit of spurring group members to make connections with other businesswomen across the five communities. 

“We’re trying to use it as a way to jumpstart camaraderie at the chambers,” said Holt.

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