Megan Gustafson was volunteering at the Loaves and Fishes food pantry in Story City several months ago, when she learned that some families have a need for more than food.


Gustafson escorted a mom through the food pantry as the volunteers there customarily do. When they came to the shelves of paper products and toiletries, the mom asked if it would be possible to get some extra tampons and pads.


“I was shocked to learn that the girls in the family were missing school because they couldn’t afford for each of them to have enough tampons and pads,” Gustafson said. “You hear about that being a problem in places like Africa, but I didn’t know it was a problem in Iowa and even right here in Story City.”


It’s a topic that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but Gustafson didn’t let that stop her from talking about “period poverty.” Gustafson is a master’s of divinity student at Wartburg and has a passion for social justice.


“I figured if I can stand in front of my church and talk about the need for tampons and pads, I can talk to anyone about anything,” she said.


And her church and her community responded in a spirit of great generosity.


Gustafson put drop boxes in four locations — St. Petri Lutheran Church, Bergen Lutheran Church, Tiffany and Co. Salon, and It’s Sew Tempting. She started her campaign on Aug. 1.


“I had pretty low expectations. I hoped to collect 20 or 30 packages,” Gustafson said. “Pads and tampons make people feel uncomfortable, and they are expensive.”


The campaign quickly “went crazy,” she said.


Setting the first goal at $100, Gustafson passed this goal and a second one with 24 hours of creating the fundraiser.


Over the month, she continued to post facts and figures telling people why it was important that pads and tampons are donated.


“One in five girls in this country will miss school this year due to a lack of access to these items,” she said. “SNAP and WIC benefits don’t cover pads and tampons, as these are considered to be luxury items.”


By the end of the month, Gustafson had collected more than 200 packages — totaling to more than 7,000 pads and tampons. More than $1,000 was donated to the cause and also about 45 makeup bags to make first-period kits for girls.


Gustafson is considering holding another campaign in the spring. For now, she’s thrilled with the results of this one.


“We repackaged 168 bags to take to one food pantry, filled four other containers to take to the middle school, the high school, and two other food pantries,” she said. “I’m so grateful for everyone who has had a role in the success of this project!”