My Mission Possible: Rethinking the Needs of Homeless Women
A simple fundraiser to provide feminine sanitary products fuels a movement
Two Canadian Thanksgivings ago, Chisomo F. N. Msoffe ’15, a BS in Political Science and Public Administration graduate, started thinking about products that most women take for granted—sanitary pads and tampons. As she walked to and from her job in downtown Ottawa, she always crossed paths with a large number of homeless women. Because feminine sanitary products are expensive, she wondered how they handled their menstrual periods when they didn’t even have enough money for a cup of coffee.
“It’s always been important for me to advocate for women in any way possible,” Msoffe says. “I started a simple fundraiser through GoFundMe to raise enough money to buy a one-month supply of sanitary products for a few local shelters. That was my original goal.”
The project started small, helping between 30 and 40 women that first month. But she wasn’t ready to stop there. “I was stunned by the response I got,” she says. “People hadn’t thought about women’s homelessness in those terms, and the idea took flight.” People gave Msoffe extra toiletry bags and products they had on hand, donated money, and helped her put together the kits she would deliver to the shelters.
“I started thinking: ‘What next? What are these women going to do next month?’” she remembers. That was the birth of her nonprofit, Ottawa’s Homeless Period. She wanted to expand the contents of her kits to include not only sanitary products but also painkillers for cramps, sanitary wipes, and snacks to ease period food cravings. And, most of all, she wanted to reach more women.
She joined a microgrant program called Soup Ottawa, where people pay $10 for a bowl of soup and have the chance to pitch the project they’re seeking funding for. The winner receives the evening’s proceeds. Msoffe won that night, receiving enough money to fund Ottawa’s Homeless Period for three months.
“This became a full-time passion for me,” she says. “Every time I went to the shelters, I realized how much I had and how other women lacked the most basic necessities. I needed to figure out how to keep this project going.”
To ensure she could continue what she started, Msoffe partnered with a local college and holds a monthly product drive at her workplace, where she runs a fellowship grant program for gynecological oncologists. She supplies products to 30 to 40 women every month through one of the area’s major shelters and hopes to advocate for women’s health by offering free Pap tests this year to shelter residents through a social advocacy program that is offered by national medical programs during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. She’s also working to find partners to help fund her nonprofit and is in talks with a local cosmetics company. In addition, Msoffe plans to return to Walden to earn an MS in Communication so she can be an even stronger voice for the women she serves.
“Advocating for social change has always been a big part of my life,” Msoffe says. “My Walden undergraduate coursework pushed me even further in that direction. I specialized in global change and social justice, and the articles and papers I read inspired me and led me where I am today. I want to continue to be a voice for people who can’t speak up for themselves.”