Before she was an actor, Saskia Hampele was a social worker in the homeless sector. “It’s such a huge, complex issue ... It’s not easy for an individual to feel like they can have an impact on that,” she says from LA, where she is now based.
A bit less than a year ago, Hampele started a social-enterprise business called Gift Box, which uses a one-for-one model to supply tampons to people who are homeless and disadvantaged. Every time someone buys a box of Gift Box tampons online, another is donated to people in shelters or on the street.
According to Homelessness Australia one in 200 Australians is homeless on any given night – that’s 105,237 people. “But women … may be more at risk than men” due to “gender-based economic/financial inequality.” (That is, women generally earn less than men.) The rates of homelessness in the LGBTIQ community are also high – trans men also use tampons.
Gift Box came about after Hampele was asked donated to a Share The Dignity campaign, “which is like a canned-goods drive, but for tampons,” she says. Then she thought about the one-for-one model that TOMS shoes uses.
“If I’m already buying a packet [of tampons], why shouldn’t another packet go to a homeless woman and then there’ll be a continuous flow – pardon the pun – of product coming in for these women as opposed to relying on these biannual donation drives,” says Hampele.
She believed, with some re-jigged priorities, she could do it. She has kept costs low by using basic packaging, and does next-to-no marketing – she relies on people’s engagement with the issue of homelessness and the growing movement towards “conscious consumerism” to get her product out there.
“I know an hour without sanitary products when you need them is stressful enough, let alone going an entire cycle,” says Hampele. “Tampons seem like such a small part of that problem – among all of that stress, having a tampon on hand is something that, surely, we can make happen for these women,” she says.
“So at least [while] they’re on their periods every month they have the freedom to walk around, applying for jobs, staying in their safe places rather than going out at night looking for products, or having to steal from stores and re-offending. There are all these follow-on effects when people don’t have tampons and pads. That’s something I felt was an achievable, small, simple thing.”
After a Kickstarter campaign raised enough for the first minimum order of organic cotton tampons ($45,000) Hampele set up the online subscription service. You can buy individual boxes of tampons or a tampon subscription, and for people who don’t need tampons themselves, there’s an option to buy products to send to others. Delivery is free.
Gift Box distributes through existing local charitable projects to get products to the people (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane Period Projects; Essentials 4 Women in South Australia; and Essentials for Women Western Australia). She just allocated around 34,000 tampons to these organisations.
Next? She wants to expand into sanitary pads and baby products.