By Crystal Hayduk
When Fiona Stoker became aware of a widespread problem facing students at Beach Middle School, she took action. She knew it would be uncomfortable to tackle an issue most people don’t want to talk about, but she drove ahead, determined to improve an ongoing predicament.
Stoker, a senior at Chelsea High School (CHS), is the daughter of Matt and Kelly Stoker. A member of Girl Scout Troop #40076 (led by her mom), Stoker has hoped to attain the Gold Award—equivalent to the Eagle Scout status for boys—since she was in kindergarten.
The wheels began to turn in Stoker’s mind in February 2021 when her mom mentioned reading a post in a local Facebook group about the lack of feminine hygiene products in restrooms at Beach Middle School (BMS).
Susan Orlandi-Johnson wrote that she had to rush products to BMS for her daughter who needed them and couldn’t access them. Other parents in the group expressed surprise to learn products weren’t readily accessible. Many women shared memories of not having supplies when they were young, and were frustrated that access had not improved for the current generation of girls in a vulnerable time of life.
Fueled by the desire for change, Stoker fast-tracked a Gold Award proposal: “…to improve accessibility of feminine hygiene projects in bathrooms at schools (primarily at BMS), to increase knowledge about menstruation, and to promote girls’ independence at school by removing the barriers caused by menstruation.” She also asked Orlandi-Johnson, a former troop leader and avid Girl Scout supporter, to be her project mentor.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stoker’s proposal idled in the Girl Scout’s council office for six months, but she put her project into gear while she waited for final approval.
She created a Facebook group, “Hygiene on the GO!” to gain support and circulate information. Stoker said contributors were generous with money and products donated at several local participating businesses, her home, and through an Amazon wish list.
Stoker also approached administrators at BMS about placing products in the girls’ restrooms. However, they disagreed on her proposed solution, believing it sufficient to keep products in the main office or counseling office.
When Stoker faced a roadblock, she had to navigate a new path to her destination. “Some people thought it was unnecessary or were embarrassed by it, especially people in my parents’ generation,” she said. “The central challenge was normalizing menstruation.”
Orlandi-Johnson said, “Fiona began this journey confidently, but her confidence soared over the course of the project. [Menstruation] can be an awkward topic that many people shy away from, but Fiona tackled it with determination. Meeting with school administrators is intimidating for anyone—more so for a teenager talking about menstruation to adult males. But even when the conversations didn’t go her way, she showed courage and poise, displayed tenacity in sticking with her mission, yet remained positive and flexible in adapting her vision when needed. She handled disappointment with grace and was creative at finding new solutions.”
Unable to place products directly in the middle school restrooms, Stoker devised a plan to get products to girls through health classes. She made up hundreds of packets with samples of hygiene products, wipes, disposable underwear, information cards (where to find products, where to shop for them, remedies for cramps), lip balm, and fun stickers. The packets were not handed out in health class as originally planned, but they are now on a shelf in the BMS counseling office, along with the products supplied at the start.
Even though products aren’t in BMS restrooms, they are available in the swimming pool locker room. “Andrew Thomson, the girls swim and dive coach, allows this because it’s helpful for girls on the team if they forgot to bring their own supplies or couldn’t afford them,” said Stoker.
Stoker sent a sizeable donation to Dickinson Academy in Grand Rapids, where the products are accessible in student bathrooms. “They are thrilled to have them,” she said.
She didn’t limit her assistance to schools, though. With Material Girls (a service organization affiliated with the Chelsea First United Methodist Church), Stoker organized a Christmastime fundraiser for Faith in Action (FIA) to get products to families who needed them.
Tracy Dickinson, benefits navigator and administrative support at FIA, said, “After recently learning more about how period poverty detrimentally affects women’s daily lives, FIA decided to more consistently stock menstrual products in our food pantry. Period poverty is a subject that people are reluctant to address. Consequently, feminine hygiene products are not frequently purchased by our donors. Having support from community groups such as the Girl Scouts is a huge help to FIA and the clients we serve.”
Stoker hasn’t given up on getting products to Chelsea students. Recently, she participated in her senior exit interview, in which students can make suggestions for school improvement. She asked Dr. Nick Angel, CHS principal, about placing products in restrooms at the high school. (Feminine hygiene vending machines at CHS are empty.)
“In some school districts, [products] are offered and supported by student clubs and in others they are not,” said Angel. “Currently, they are housed in the office and counseling offices. Fiona’s plan is to organize placement of feminine hygiene products at CHS. She is going to help us stock and replenish them in the bathrooms. This will increase accessibility. If the plan works well, we will continue this path.”
Through managing her Gold Award project, Stoker not only learned more about menstruation and hygiene, but also how the educational system works through issues and problems. Since she began her project in 2021, Ann Arbor passed a law requiring products be accessible for free in every public restroom, which took effect in January 2022. Some states have passed legislation requiring free, accessible supplies in schools, and other states have proposals now under consideration.
The Girl Scouts notified Stoker last October that she has officially completed her Gold Award requirements, but she will continue her efforts, which now include finding a school group to drive the project forward as she graduates and heads to college.
“Access to period products is about dignity, equity, and is a fundamental human right,” said Orlandi-Johnson.
“Fiona recognized the problem here in Chelsea and worked hard to be part of the solution. She learned about the worldwide crisis, what others are doing to address it, and began creatively problem-solving locally to bring middle school girls the respect and the products they need—through two years of dedication and hard work,” Orlandi-Johnson said.