Sami Neff speaks at the JRA gala about her period pack program for women in need. (Courtesy of Marnie Neff)

In 2019, 12-year-old Samantha Neff and her mother, Marnie Neff, were walking through Center City when they saw a homeless person.

“What do homeless people do when they get their period?” the young girl asked.

“That’s a good question,” the mother answered.

“I didn’t have the answer,” Marnie Neff recalled.

The two women decided that Sami should raise money for period products and collect them for her bat mitzvah project. So, the daughter gathered menstrual products from classmates and teachers at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. She also raised money via a GoFundMe link on Facebook.

Sami raised enough, $3,000, to purchase two seven-foot pallets of tampons and pads. The mother and daughter decided to donate them to the Jewish Relief Agency, which provides essential items for people in need.

“This amount of product ended up serving the JRA community for two years,” Marnie Neff said.

It also launched a permanent “period pack” program for women in the JRA community. And after Sami gave a talk about her effort at the Baldwin School, its administrators decided to put similar packs in their girls’ bathrooms.

“It was an amazing feeling,” said the now-16-year-old high school student at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. “I was overwhelmed and happy that all this work is being put into action.”

After seeing the homeless person in 2019, Marnie Neff did some internet research and found an organization in Missouri called Helping Women Period. Its website had information about “period poverty and period inequality,” the mother recalled.

“What it costs every month and what it costs if they can’t buy the products,” she said. “Missing school or missing work.”

The mother and daughter learned that it was a huge issue that was not “being talked about,” Marnie Neff added. So, it became Sami’s goal to raise money and buy products but also to put the issue front and center. The student placed her collection box in front of the office of Baldwin’s head of middle school. She also refused to use a euphemism such as “hygiene products.”

“Please donate unused, unopened period products such as tampons and menstrual pads,” the box said.

“She recognized that there’s a taboo surrounding the issue almost preventing the betterment of the situation. Nobody wants to say ‘blood’ or ‘period’ or ‘tampon,’” the mother said. “So, at every turn we were using these phrases.”

The response to fundraising and item requests on social media was swift and widespread. Marnie Neff posted in her group called Phish Chicks, for fans of the jam band Phish.

“These women from all over would donate,” she said.

Sami Neff and her parents pack items in the JRA warehouse. (Courtesy of Marnie Neff)

Early in 2020, before Sami’s bat mitzvah, the mother and daughter filled out a form on JRA’s website explaining what they had. One day, they got a call from JRA’s warehouse.

“They said, ‘Hey, seven pallets of period product just arrived. We thought you were going to tell us when it was coming,’” the mother recalled.

Sami had her bat mitzvah on Feb. 1, 2020. After that and after COVID started, the family, Sami, Marnie, their father/husband David and sister/daughter Shoshi went to the warehouse to help organize the products. Due to the pandemic, it was just them and a few volunteers.

Marnie Neff took a picture of Sami next to the two seven-foot pallets.

“It was just almost a sense of relief and pride because we got it done but at the same time, it was such a nice feeling to know how many families we were going to help,” Sami said.

After that, the middle schooler realized that Baldwin didn’t have these products in its girls’ bathrooms.

“Going to an all-girls’ school, it was almost shocking,” she said.

Sami made her presentation, and then administrators had a meeting. They decided she was right.

Two years later, JRA finally ran out of products. But like those Baldwin administrators, they decided that the teenager was right. More women should have access to these items.

The organization asked Sami and Marnie Neff to present to its board on why the program was so important. They were joined on an executive committee by a medical professional and a community organizer, among others. The group also sent out a survey to JRA clients.
“We got an overwhelming response. ‘Yeah, we’d love this,’” Marnie Neff said.

In February 2023, JRA’s period pack program did its first round of deliveries. Sami, by then a student at Barrack, noticed that her new school had those items in its bathrooms. But her advocacy was not done.

She spoke on the issue to the school’s Environmental Club. She’s also planning a presentation to the school community.

“Spreading awareness on this topic is a big goal of mine,” she said.

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