From Passion Project to Calling — Sharron Champion '90 Founds the Homeless Period Project to Help Women and Girls Across the State and Country
By Jason Spencer
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2020 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
Sharron Champion ’90 remembers herself as a reserved young woman when she thinks back to her days at Spartanburg Methodist College.
“That girl [Sharron in her college years] was so different,” she said. “I was a geek, very straight-laced. I had several who believed in me and tried to build me up. They recognized I was meek and mild, but they also recognized leadership qualities in me. So, it was a stepping stone for me to see I had qualities to give back, to be a voice for others. First I just had to learn to have my own self-esteem and voice.”
In the years since, not only has Champion found her voice, but her passion and calling.
In May 2015, Champion and her sister-in-law, Stephanie Arnold, saw a news article about homeless women in the United Kingdom who were not able to manage their menstrual cycles because they didn’t have access to appropriate hygiene products. Most people never thought to donate those items to shelters or other places that assist the homeless.
The two began doing their own research, contacting local churches and other organizations that worked with the homeless community. They got all the answers they didn’t want to hear: Lack of access to these products was a major issue in the U.S., too.
In June 2015, the pair hosted their first Period Party. “We wanted it to be in-your-face,” Champion recalled. They had wine and cheese and a list of specific items for attendees to bring and donate.
They assembled Period Packs, an assortment of items in discreet weatherproof storage bags so a woman living on the streets or in a tent wouldn’t need to carry around a bulky package.
As the party wound down, one of the women – a last-minute invite, it turned out – asked when the next one was. The woman offered to host her own party the following month and asked Champion to come speak on the need.
The Homeless Period Project was born. Within a year, it obtained official nonprofit status.
“It was supposed to be one party, just to raise awareness. It wasn’t supposed to start a project,” Champion said. “It was like ivy. It took on a life of itself, and I just followed along with it.”
Five years later, the project serves all 46 counties in South Carolina – including every public middle and high school – and has chapters in 15 other states. In states without a chapter, Champion and Arnold work with volunteers to host their own parties and connect them with the appropriate agencies in their communities – last year, they had 20 parties in New York City alone, for instance.
The Homeless Period Project, based in Greenville, and its chapters in the United States on average help about 15,000 women and girls each month. Collectively, they assembled about 500,000 Period Packs through December 2019 – made up of more than 7.7 million donated products.
About five months in, a local high school nurse asked Champion if someone needed to be homeless in order to receive donations. The nurse worked at a high-poverty school where every student was on free lunch.
Champion said she was blown away that she hadn’t thought of schoolgirls. Roughly 1 in 5 girls in the United States misses school because they don’t have access to hygiene products, Champion said.
Her mother raised her and her two brothers, Andy and Brian, in Section 8 housing, and she would have qualified for such donations. She hated asking her mother for anything, because money was scarce, and she could see the pain in her mother’s face, despite the attempts to hide it.
“I was a typical teenager who was horrified to bring up periods. I didn’t want people to bring them up in conversation, to see tampons or pads in my cart, or for mom to send me into a store to buy them, especially if the cashier was a boy,” she said.
“I always said God has a sense of humor, because now pads are falling out of my car. Now I’m known as the face of tampons in South Carolina.”
The project continued to expand. After a nurse at the Spartanburg County Detention Center contacted Champion, she realized women in jails and prisons needed access to these items; seeing inmates erupt with applause over pieces of cotton was a powerful image, Champion said. The project now also works with refugees, immigrants, and Native American reservations.
On March 8, 2019, International Women’s Day, the group worked with women at Turner Broadcasting System and other corporate partners to host Period Parties all over the world – from New York to Miami, Atlanta to Seattle, along with locations in Thailand, Dubai, Indonesia, and other countries.
“It’s just a really cool feeling to watch all the kindness,” Champion said. “People want to help, they just don’t know how. And this is such an easy way to help.”
Thanks to corporate donations from Period Partner of Hospeco and U by Kotex, the Homeless Period Project had more than 200,000 pads stockpiled ahead of COVID-19.
Champion, now 50, is the executive director of the Homeless Period Project. She also serves full time as an executive administrative and human resources assistant for the Greenville Housing Authority.
Her son, Champ, also attended Spartanburg Methodist College and played baseball. Daughter Isabella is a junior at the College of Charleston.
Champion, a native of Greenville, attended SMC from 1988-90 – following in the footsteps of her older brother, Andy – before transferring to a university to earn her bachelor’s degree in business administration. At SMC, she was editor of the annual and yearbook, where she first started learning the organizational skills that have helped her succeed.
She found a mentor in Pete Aylor, whom she would turn to both as her professor and as the Director of Counseling.
“Sharron had an open mind and an open heart. We all reap what we sow, and she was willing to step out and get attached and get active in the campus and in the community,” Aylor said. “It was something that was in her heart long before she came to SMC, but we allowed her to step out, and by doing that on a small campus, she was able to spread her wings.”
Champion said students who want to start a movement like the Homeless Period Project need only keep in mind that if they find what they are passionate about, it will take a life of its own.
“I didn’t sit around and say, ‘I want to start a nonprofit, what do I do?’ It found me. If there is something you are passionate about, go for it. Passion drives you,” she said. “Whether it’s nonprofit or for-profit, it’s yours. Because when you have passion for something, you never give up.”