HOSPECO, manufacturer of products for cleaning and protecting facilities and people, has partnered with New York City council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and the New York City Department of Education in providing the first dispenser of free feminine hygiene products at a public high school. The girls’ restroom at the High School for Arts and Business in Corona, Queens, located in councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland’s district, was outfitted with the dispenser and will receive free Maxithins sanitary napkins and Tampax tampons for the entire school year.

This groundbreaking pilot program, the only government initiative of its kind in the nation, is supported by donations from HOSPECO. Ferreras-Copeland, along with the New York City Council, have been pushing for free feminine hygiene products in middle schools, high schools and other public buildings across New York City, including hospitals, parks and cultural institutions.

“HOSPECO is proud to be a sponsor of this initiative,” explained Bill Hemann, vice president of sales and marketing. “As a pioneer and leader in this category, we advocate that this isn’t simply an issue of bathroom equality and mutual consideration, it is also — and really more importantly — a women’s health issue. To us, vended feminine hygiene products are a required amenity in all women’s public restrooms, just like toilet paper, hand soap and paper towels.”

It is precisely this that motivated Ferreras-Copeland.

“Offering free menstrual care supplies as we do toilet paper and condoms,” explained Ferreras-Copeland, “is a matter of avoiding health risks, eliminating the stigma that surrounds a natural part of a woman’s life, and for girls in school, not having to skip class because they got their period. Feminine hygiene products allow women and girls to carry out their daily responsibilities uninterrupted, and these products should always be easily accessible,” she concluded.

“This is a valuable service to provide, and I am glad that girls at my school will have free access to these products. I want to thank council member Ferreras-Copeland for her support on this program,” said Ana Zambrano, Arts and Business High School principal.

Ferreras-Copeland, together with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, will introduce legislation on free feminine hygiene products next month. The council will also lobby Albany to join Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey, states that have eliminated sales tax on feminine hygiene products, items that are considered medical devices by the FDA. Items like prescription drugs, sunscreen and condoms are exempt from tax in New York State under the premise that they are essential to a person’s health.

Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland plans to complement the dispenser with an educational component for girls, their male peers, and their parents in the hope that it will start a conversation and normalize the monthly ritual. In addition, the experience of the girls will be evaluated toward the end of the year to learn about best practices and possible improvements as the legislation moves forward.

Over the summer, Ferreras-Copeland held two round tables with over 30 advocates and young girls to inform them of the legislation and address the taboo and poor access associated with pads, tampons and other menstrual supplies in New York City. Women shared the obstacles they faced during menstruation and offered recommendations to address the women’s health issue. A third roundtable with advocates was held after the unveiling at City Hall.

“Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland and New York City are at the vanguard on this issue,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a leading writer and advocate. Her three-part series, featured in the New York Times this year, focused on how the inability to afford menstrual products affects women. “Not only will the City’s agenda improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers, but it will serve as a catalyst for advancing a vital message: that the ability to manage menstruation is a necessity, not an entitlement or privilege. And that no one should have to miss work or school, or risk their health, or compromise their dignity because they menstruate.”

The High School for Arts and Business is located in the working-class area of Corona, Queens, and currently has an enrollment of approximately 850 students, of which 56 percent are girls.