Making An Impact on Women Who are Homeless: An Interview with Lamanda Ballard, Founder of FloCode
Lamanda Ballard tells us about her efforts to help homeless women receive access to feminine hygiene products.
Lauren: How did FloCode begin?
Lamanda: Initially we launched in Austin, March of 2017. We started off as a part of another nonprofit called The Homeless Period Project. They are a national org that focuses on providing feminine hygiene products for underprivileged women and girls. I had the opportunity to connect with the Cofounder and she said “Get started with your own chapter, whatever works for you, however you want to do it”. That’s exactly what I did. I started creating community service opportunities, bringing together a wide range of people from different backgrounds. To date we’ve had over 500 volunteers attend our events. I wasn’t expecting our organization to become as big as it is today. I took advantage of this opportunity and really wanted to do something different with the people of Austin and create a safe place for women. We branched out to become our own 501©(3) and changed our name to Flo Code. What I thought would be just a few friends and I coming together to host Flo Parties turned into us finding a way to give back to the community in a major way. The more I marketed our organization on social media, the more people reached out looking for ways to support us and get more involved. Since March of 2017, we’ve donated over 100,000 products including Hurricane Harvey and Maria victims as well as serviced over 18,000 periods. We’ve collaborated with different businesses and organizations in 8 states and we can only make a greater impact from here.
What do the Flo-Parties entail?
I create community service announcements to provide details on upcoming Flo Parties. Usually the event is held somewhere that has enough space to hold 50-100 people. The goal of each party is to create as many Flo Kits as possible with the donations provided to us from the community. Volunteers package together pads, tampons, panty-liners, and feminine wipes. We also collect new menstrual cups and underwear to hand out directly to women in need. Each kit includes four of each item. We tend to run out of panty liners and feminine wipes because those are the least donated items. We don’t mind leaving these out as long as we have pads and tampons included in each kit. People also donate larger packs of flushable intimate wipes. These items are also donated directly to women.
Why do you feel the work you are doing is important (obviously it is), but why do you feel so?
I’ve always had a passion for philanthropy and this was the perfect opportunity for me to do something selfless. I was already volunteering downtown at a shelter and one of the observations I made was the lack of women coming for resources. There were a lot of men in the area, but not enough women. Later I found out that one of the well known shelters used to be an all men’s homeless shelter. Now they have stipulations set up so only adult women are allowed to utilize them as a resource. A huge issue with the homeless community is how a lot of men are registered sex offenders, making it hard for shelters to help women under the age of 18. I was trying to find other ways to get involved but also target women to ensure that they have what they need.
Flo Code was the perfect opportunity for me to shed light on something that people don’t normally think about. We don’t think when we see homeless women asking for money “Maybe she needs $5 to purchase pads so she won’t have to create one out of tissue”. Sometimes I feel like people have a lack of compassion for humanity because someone isn’t on the same level of life as you. We need to be that resource for women in need to help restore their dignity, not tear them down. I have a few ways that I intend to expand the nonprofit. First thing is to create a street team, so that we can focus on providing products to homeless women in areas where they are known to hang out the most. We are also collaborating with organizations who pass out food or clothes to these women, so I make sure Flo Code is there to represent and be a reliable resource. This work is important to me because I am the type of person who is willing to go the extra mile for others. Even if I don’t know everyone we’ve donated to personally, I at least have the satisfaction of saying, “I may not be able to support you financially, but here are the resources I have that I feel can help you.”
Yeah and feminine hygiene products are a basic need for women too!
I had the opportunity to speak after the Women’s March at the TX Roe vs Wade Rally and one of the things I discussed was how we are being taxed on feminine hygiene products. We have chapstick, candy, razors, and Rogaine that are not taxed, yet tampons and pads are not considered a medical necessity. Our organization has received donations from all over the country, but the biggest issue is that we will spend on average $3,000 on feminine hygiene products, and pay hundreds in sales taxes. This is not okay. So we are working with some policy changers to really fight this tampon tax. I know they have tried before in the past and it didn’t work, but that’s okay because we are going to keep pushing and keep trying. The best part of it all is that we have women like Wendy Davis who believe in what we do to help support our mission. To know we have that type of support from people in the community is amazing.
What have been some challenges in pursuing your work?
We have 3 major challenges. One of the biggest challenge is not being able to do it all. I would love to be more involved in the community beyond hosting events and speaking engagements. I honestly feel like there’s not enough time in the day. This is one of the main reasons why I am looking for people to join the executive board. Another hurdle for us is consistency with donations. Now that we are eligible for grants it is imperative that I find a grant writer. At each Flo Party, we spend at least $3000-5000 which is why I only host them every two months rather than every month. I want to make sure that we have a solid amount of donations and keep people engaged during our events. The final challenge is having volunteers really interested in getting more involved. I would love to get a solid executive board together outside of just the 3 people. I would love to find people who are serious about making a difference and volunteering their time.
How can college students support you in your quest?
The best way to support our organization is to reach out and host a Flo Party, join our executive board, host a donation drive, or attend our community service events! We collaborate with so many organizations from businesses to University clubs. Contact us if you have an idea on how to contribute to the success of our organization. The best way to reach us is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our website will be launching soon as well.
Who inspires you and why?
I love Michelle Obama! I love reading about her journey. It’s so important to celebrate every success and milestone (no matter how big or small) and finding a way to give back to others. That means everything to me and that’s how I will continue to live my life. She still finds ways to give back to the students and young women. She cares about their diet, education, and finds ways to personally take time to make sure they have what they need. That’s the kind of woman I aspire to be. I want to make sure the work I’m doing is purposeful and fulfilling. I want to know that if something happens to me people will say “She lived her best life, she made an impact on this community”.
You can find upcoming events on the Flo Code Facebook.