Raising Visibility for an “Invisible Need”

Barb Morgan’s unofficial mission statement is to “talk to anyone over three feet tall about what we do.”
Portrait by Karin Strickland

As Barb Morgan speaks with Bold Life, a machine quietly beeps in the background. She’s in the cancer center for treatment of her bone-marrow failure — a chronic and incurable condition. But that’s not what she wants to talk about. What she wants to talk about are the girls and women that her nonprofit, Project Dignity, serves.

The project started two years ago, when Morgan talked with her son, who was receiving food stamps/SNAP, but could not buy toilet paper, since paper products are not covered. And soon thereafter, when she spoke with a friend who ran a similar nonprofit in Oxford, Mississippi, she learned that access to menstrual supplies is a large, and largely ignored, need among girls and women who are homeless, transitional, or living in poverty. 

Hendersonville-based Project Dignity, active since 2017, supplied tampons and pads to 31 public schools, 4 charter schools, and 19 agencies last month alone. That’s more than 5,000 tampons and 4,000 pads distributed to girls and women across the region. Morgan says, “It’s amazing. We’ll be doing presentations and people will come up and say, ‘You know, that was me. I had that problem.’”

They began with schools. Members and volunteers at Project Dignity package the products in bundles of ten, and counselors then identify those who may need them. Students can then go to a closet in the school where they will be available, no questions asked. 

And now their work is spreading to shelters and other agencies, including the Steadfast House in Asheville, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Henderson County, and the Salvation Army Center of Hope in Buncombe County, among others. Their products are being distributed as fast as they can supply them.

“Nancy’s job, and our board’s job, is to talk to anyone over three feet tall about what we do,” says Morgan, referring to the group’s volunteer treasurer Nancy Pellegrini. These talks serve a dual purpose: raising awareness about a need that can seem invisible — and too often embarrassing — as well as raising money and collecting donated menstrual-care products. 

Not only do they take individual donations and talk about their work everywhere they go, the women encourage others to throw parties and request guests bring pads and tampons in lieu of presents. They make it easy to donate by setting up drop boxes at businesses in Hendersonville and Asheville. Grants from local organizations and a recurring donation from the Kimberly-Clark Corporation in Hendersonville to round out their support.

Asked why she started Project Dignity, even in the wake of her diagnosis, Morgan is direct: “[It] keeps me focused on what’s important. I just want to give back and alleviate the suffering of others.”

Project Dignity will hold a fundraiser from 7-10pm on Saturday, March 30, at Triskelion Brewery (340 7th Ave. East, Hendersonville, 828-388-7051, triskelionbrewing.com) with live music by Carver & Carmody, raffle baskets, and light snacks. For more information or to donate, e-mail dignitywnc@gmail.com or see the website: projectdignitywnc.com.

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