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Omaha Magazine

Accessing the Essential

Dec 21, 2023 01:15PM ● By Veronica Wortman Ploetz
profile january february 2024

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

One day Kristin Lowrey walked down Underwood Avenue in Dundee, passing by Hello Holiday, a now closed clothing boutique. “They were sponsoring a period product drive and their front store window was full, period products were stacked to the ceiling, and I remember thinking not only is this a need, but people in Omaha care deeply about this issue,” Lowrey said. 

“No one should have to put their life on hold each month because they can’t afford menstrual products. One in four people who menstruate experience period poverty in their lifetime, and that’s not something I am willing to accept.” 

Lowrey knew she wanted to provide free period products to people who need them. Within a couple months, Lowrey would spend her own money to purchase menstrual products, host two small scale packing parties, and donate the period packs to Partnership 4 Hope and Project Everlast, organizations helping young adults transition out of foster care. “I had a day job, working as the director of communication at Remedy staffing. Owners John and Carol Neff were supportive of my passion and passion project,” Lowrey said. 

The philanthropist, volunteer, busy mother and wife, supportive best friend and mentor is a recent recipient of the 2023 Midlands Business Journal 40 Under 40 award and serves as the executive director of the non-profit, Access Period. The organization’s mission is to combat period poverty by providing free menstrual products to anyone who needs them in Nebraska. Described by those who know her as humble, passionate, and authentic, Lowrey brings people, partners, and the community together and leaves those around her feeling appreciated and inspired. 

Her passion for community began at the University of Nebraska Kearney as a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. The chapter’s philanthropy, Girls on the Run, strengthened elementary and middle school girls’ social, emotional, physical, and behavioral skills. Lowrey realized the power of concerted effort of a community bound together to solve a problem. 

After graduation, Gamma Phi Beta alumna and Omaha community volunteer Jennifer Zatechka invited Lowrey and other recent graduates to a Junior League of Omaha recruitment party. The League is an organization focused on voluntarism and developing women into community leaders through fundraising and community service project work. Lowrey joined the League and volunteered for the Project Hope Pack committee, assembling backpacks filled with three to five days of hygiene items, clothing, and comfort items for children being removed from crisis situations. 

“This position opened my eyes to what access to basic needs looks like and how a community can come together, actually talk to people about their needs, and address them directly,” said Lowrey. She streamlined the logistics of ordering and storing products, designed the workflow for assembling backpacks, scheduled volunteer packing shifts, and learned foundational distribution management. Project Hope Pack delivered more than 7,300 backpacks to children from 2011 to 2019.

Word was out and more agencies contacted Lowery for menstrual products. The passion project was filling an undiscovered gap in community services. In 2022, she turned her attention full time to the effort. Volunteers sourced products and scheduled deliveries. In May of that year, Lowrey’s friend and Charles Schwab employee Maggie McGlade was coordinating Volunteer Week at the company. She pitched the company donating supplies and hosting packing parties. 

“This was bigger than anything I had done before,” Lowrey said. “I ordered enough supplies for three large packing parties, and it all worked out beautifully.” Corporate interest in packing parties increased, and Lowrey found additional agencies to distribute the period packs.

Lowrey needed a name and brand identity for the project. She posted a message to a Facebook group, The Daily Carnage, where marketing and communications professionals exchange ideas. 

Raj Lulla, co-owner of Fruitful Design & Strategy, responded, intrigued by the concept and looking for a pro-bono project for his team. He admits never thinking about the issue of period poverty prior to meeting Lowrey. 

“I have two daughters, I see some challenges they face, and how amazing they are. When you hear the period poverty statistics, it immediately feels wrong,” Lulla said. “This isn’t just a women’s issue, or an issue for women to fix for each other. If part of men’s existence is to help protect other people, then it is their role to fix this, too. It goes beyond people who menstruate.”

When taking a potentially taboo topic and presenting it to the community, the way it’s presented will immediately impact the way the world engages, or doesn’t engage, with it. Fruitful is one of about 35 StoryBrand Certified Agencies in the world. The goal is to position the potential donor or volunteer as the hero of the story. The agency created the brand identity for Access Period and its messaging, website, and print collateral for distribution points known as Access Points.

Bre Marsh, a senior designer and the lead on the project, used elements of period products and incorporated them into the art inspired by Michelangelo’s depiction of God on a cloud touching fingertips with Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “There is truth in using this art as inspiration. It visually references the sharing and passing of menstrual products while also suggesting the sacred act of caring for one another in time of need,” Lulla said.

“The team at Fruitful Designs made something beautiful that people want to be involved with,” Lowrey said. “They framed the concept of period poverty in a way that was comfortable for anyone to talk about. They gave me the visuals and language to engage stakeholders.” 

The first large sponsor to embrace Lowrey’s vision was Healthy Blue Nebraska, then one of three managed care organizations providing Medicaid health plan coverage. “We totally blew up, because of them,” Lowrey said. “Healthy Blue could see what this was before it was built.”

Dave James, Executive Director of Partnership 4 Hope (P4H) was instrumental in supporting Lowrey. The two met by chance at a fundraiser. After learning about his decades of dedication to supporting former foster youth in the Omaha area through mentorship, financial and educational assistance, and household furnishings, Lowrey would become a mentor at Partnership 4 Hope. 

When Access Period secured their first large source of funding, Lowrey asked James if P4H would serve as a fiscal agent for Access Period, helping the budding nonprofit cut through the red tape and paperwork that can often serve as roadblocks to launching. “I think it is unique that someone so young has taken on a huge challenge and complex project,” James said. “Lowrey navigates through challenges with an effervescent joy.”

Lowrey teamed up with Abby Jackson, executive and founding director of The Teen Center at Burke High School. It was the first community site to have a fully stocked Access Period cabinet. “Students and alumni share the stress of finances. Having quality and adequate period products removes one barrier and protects dignity. We have packing parties and conversations so that all students know about the importance of access and reducing the stigma of periods and period needs,” Jackson said.

Brittany Perry, resource coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands, partners with Access Period to make menstrual products available at many of their programs. “We have completed surveys for Access Period, and 99% of our recipients stated that they were able to pay a bill or buy groceries now that they didn’t have to spend money on period products,” Perry said.
 
The Access Period cabinet at the Union for Contemporary Art is unique, located in a very public space where anyone can walk in off the street and take as many packs as they need, never having to talk to anyone. But if anyone wants to chat, office manager Pearl Lovejoy Boyd is there and often relays anecdotes back to Lowrey. 

While there are many organizations in other states doing similar work, Access Period stands apart in three ways: partner organizations distribute the products to the populations they serve; totally free three-month supply, unlimited, no proof of need required; and consistent service to multiple access points across the state.

Scaling state-wide would not have been possible without Caleb Lowrey, Kristin’s husband, who assembles period packs while watching football and is always willing to make one more delivery to further the cause. As Access Period has taken off, Kristin has transitioned out of the role of primary caregiver to their two daughters, Cora (6) and Elsie (3), and Caleb took on more of the responsibilities. The two parents balance in partnership.  

Lowrey feels honored to be the person able to start and grow this initiative. She’s the first to acknowledge the enormous privilege she has, which made it possible to start a nonprofit. 

“Even though I work hard, my circumstances afforded me the opportunity to try something experimental,” she said. “If you are someone who has time, money, or social capital to give, the world will be better for it.” 

Where to grow from here? Lowrey wants to expand distribution to rural areas and support legislation expanding access to free products in all public schools and government buildings. She’s not worried about putting feminine hygiene product companies out of business. “People of means will always purchase products they prefer. But for those who can’t afford it, we make safe, quality, period products available for free,” Lowrey said. 

For more information, visit accessperiod.com.

Access Period distribution locations, called “Access Points,” include:

Omaha: One World Teen and Young Adult Centers and Union for Contemporary Art
Lincoln: Family Health Services
Hastings: Courage Advocacy Center
Kearney: Choice Family Health Care 
North Platte: People’s Family Health Services
Scottsbluff: CAPWN - Community Action Health Center
Fremont: Thriftology
Norfolk: Northeast Nebraska Community Action Partnership

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 
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