A new summit hosted by nonprofit Dignity Grows will address period poverty with help from the likes of journalist Soledad O’Brien, pictured here. (Credit: JD Lasica, Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly 17 million people in the U.S. struggle with period poverty. Later this month, activists will meet to help them.

Dignity Grows, a national nonprofit working to support people with periods while addressing harmful stigmas around menstruation, will be hosting its first-ever summit on unequal access to hygiene products. Participants will gather in Austin, Texas, to discuss this “critical public health crisis driving gender, health, education and socioeconomic equity,” a press release from Dignity Grows reads.

During the two-day summit, a host of speakers and panelists – including award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien, Rep. Grace Meng of New York and Jeannie Infante Sager, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University –  “will examine and develop strategies to combat this largely overlooked epidemic that affects one in three American women and girls,” the release adds.

The event marks a significant leap from the organization’s beginnings. It was founded by Jessica Zachs, a chef, entrepreneur and activist who was galvanized into action after seeing “Period. End Of Sentence.,” the 2019 Oscar-winning documentary on period poverty in India. “The thought that someone – anyone – would not have access to period products greatly touched something deep within me,” Zachs recalled to MSNBC.

Initially, she focused her work in her Hartford, Connecticut, community by coordinating a one-night menstrual product drive. When word spread of her event’s success, and the emails of support flowed in, she knew she had a longer-lasting movement on her hands. 

She was right – today, there are more than 3,000 Dignity Grows volunteers in almost 60 chapters throughout the country. The nonprofit has also partnered with numerous large companies to fund its work and access supplies, including finance giant Bank of America, pharmacy chain CVS Health, insurance company Aetna and philanthropic shoemaker Bombas.

And as preparations continue for the summit, which will be held Oct. 15 and 16, Zachs and others within her organization also have concrete goals for the long-term future of their fight. 

“Dignity Grows is at the forefront of changing the narrative and policy on period poverty,” she said to MSNBC. “By 2028, we project we will be providing menstrual hygiene support to a million Americans each year.”

For more on period poverty from The Story Exchange…