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Photo courtesy of Connie Altamirano
Jacob Altamirano and Jamie Longo at the Hungry Monk on June 13.

Jamie Longo, a Ridgewood resident and Brooklyn Technical High School sophomore, wants to help girls and women in the community who can’t afford feminine hygiene products.

Longo and her mother, community activist Connie Altamirano, decided to undertake this new initiative after researching period poverty — defined as a lack of access to sanitary products, toilets, menstrual hygiene education, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management by the American Medical Women’s Association — and how it impacts thousands of women and girls in the United States.

“As we learned more about it, it upset me how many people have to choose between buying these products or other necessities,” Longo said. “I just feel for them, because I know how much it can suck. It must really be hard when you can’t support yourself. I connected with that the most.”

In an effort to address the issue locally, the 15-year-old thought it would be best to help six food pantries — four in Queens and two in Brooklyn — distribute feminine hygiene products with their food items when she realized they didn’t have such products to distribute.

One of those food pantries was the Hungry Monk, located in the Covenant Lutheran Church at 68-59 60th Lane. Longo and her little brother Jacob Altamirano, who previously partnered with the Hungry Monk, distributed more than 225 bags with feminine hygiene products to the organization for its weekly food distribution on Saturday, June 13.

Photo courtesy of Connie Altamirano

“At the Hungry Monk, the line was down the block but it went by pretty fast,” Longo said. “It was pretty cool because a lot of people were thankful.”

Councilman Robert Holden visited the pantry and recognized Longo for her community service.

“Jamie has clearly learned from her mom the value of community service, and she’s setting a great example for young people who want to help their neighbors!” Holden wrote in a Facebook post.

Through her research, Longo discovered PERIOD, an organization founded in 2014 that has addressed more than 1 million periods through product distribution and registered over 700 PERIOD chapters in all 50 US states and in over 40 countries.

According to a 2019 report by PERIOD and Thinx Inc., “one-in-five teens have struggled to afford period products or have not been able to purchase them at all, and one-in-four teens have missed class due the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products.”

Longo became a Chapter leader for PERIOD after reaching out to PERIOD for some guidance, which gives her access to more resources.

It took about two weeks of fundraising, $750 of which came from Longo’s own pocket, $1,200 from a GoFundMe campaign, as well as product donations from the community to gather thousands of tampons, pads, panty liners, and menstrual cups.

Longo also wants to help bring awareness to the “pink tax,” or gender-based pricing, which refers to the extra amount of money women often times pay for certain products or services.

“When I go to my local CVS store, I noticed prices are different, but people aren’t usually comparing the prices, they’re just buying what they can,” Longo said.

Photo courtesy of Connie Altamirano

Longo is in good company when it comes to bringing awareness to menstrual needs in Queens — two other Astoria teens created Femstrate, successfully calling on the Department of Education to offer free period products at meal hubs.

Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a campaign to eliminate the pink tax in New York State this year.

Last year, Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents parts of Ridgewood, introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act, the first comprehensive bill to address the challenges of obtaining feminine hygiene products in the United States. The bill would make menstrual products free for women in prison, allow states to use federal funds to supply products to girls in school, and requiere that these products be covered by Medicaid.

Altamirano is proud of her children for knowing the importance of giving back to their community.

“This cause is very dear to our hearts, as a mother who has experienced having to make a choice between buying diapers and formula for an infant son or feminine menstrual products for myself,” Altamirano said. “I’m proud of my two wonderful children that are giving back in a pandemic. They don’t want to just give back now, they want to continue doing this. We should all continue helping each other, we should never stop.”

Longo wants to make this a recurring project, and is still accepting product donations and monetary donations via GoFundMe. For those who want to donate products, Longo and Altamirano can be reached via email at conniealt1@gmail.com.

“Now more than ever, our community has to work together to supply each other with what we need,” Longo said. “We have to help each other to make sure most of us are OK.”

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