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Personal hygiene products fill Shelby County Schools students’ needs

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Summer break is over, and Shelby County Schools are back in session.

But many youngsters, especially girls, may not want to attend class if they feel self-conscious about their personal hygiene.

Fran Wilson stocks up on the Student Care Closet at Kate Bond Middle School

"We have shampoo, we have soap, we have toothpaste, toothbrushes dental floss, deodorant," said Wilson, community coordinator and theater teacher at Kate Bond.

Shelves are also full of feminine hygiene products, which something Wilson said many young girls need every month, but many do not have access to them.

"It was that they were on their cycle, and maybe they didn't have enough products, and they were embarrassed to come to school without that," Wilson said.

A $90,000 grant from United Healthcare Tennessee and the Shelby County Education Foundation is addressing the need at 20 Shelby County Schools.

The grant provides 500 bags of personal hygiene products for Kate Bond Middle School alone that are packed by volunteers who want students to be able to focus on their education.

"We know that it makes them self conscious," said Matt Grimes, vice president of United Healthcare. "It impacts their ability to come to school, to feel good about learning. And once they get behind, we believe it makes it harder for them to continue. We're very excited that this is something that can help keep those kids in school."

It's a sensitive subject, but one that students talk about among themselves.

"Yes, it is a concern to me because, especially my friends, if they don't feel confident in how they smell, look, whatever, then if they don't come to school, that makes me feel really bad because they're missing out on their education just because of the way other people might think of them," Donovan Marino, a student council member at Kate Bond, said.

Basic products filling basic needs for as many as 10,000 students are available whenever they need them.

Wilson knows the need will continue throughout the school year, so it's important to keep the closet and the bags full.

"You want to do something about bullying with a child that maybe doesn't smell the best? Those are very important things in middle school," Wilson said. "Or maybe a young lady who doesn't attend school because she doesn't have the products she needs? Reach out and help us. This is one way you can do so."

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