• Race to a Cure Authors

From Advocacy to Menstrual Products: An Interview with Our Code Red

“Throughout the pandemic, homeless and low income communities have been continuously underserved, with barriers to accessing menstrual products becoming even greater.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified pre-existing inequalities and barriers in our society. Yet, it has also inspired individuals of all ages to come together and make a difference in their local and global communities. Introducing Vidya Pandiaraju, Kismet Reuss, and Nicole Fan from Our Code Red, a campaign with a motto of “servicing displaced menstruators, one shelter at a time.” Read on to find out more about what inspired them to start Our Code Red, the importance of advocacy, and how you can get involved!

Interview with Vidya, Kismet, and Nicole

Tell me a bit about yourselves!

Hi! We’re Vidya, Kismet and Nicole, the co-chairs at Our Code Red. Vidya and Kismet are in grade 11 at University of Toronto Schools, while Nicole is in grade 10 at the same school. The three of us have really seen Our Code Red grow so much over the past year, and we’ve learned so much from one another. This has genuinely been one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve been a part of. We’re really excited to share more about our campaign!

What is Our Code Red? What inspired you to establish the organization?

Our Code Red is a campaign that strives to provide relief to houseless individuals directly through the shelter system by providing them with menstrual products, resources and workshops. Advocacy is so important, and our communications team does such a wonderful job of cushioning our work with that notion of awareness and education, but the centre of our movement is making tangible change for those that need it the most.

What are some of the initiatives that Our Code Red has carried out?

Since the start of our organization last April, OCR has launched a Tutoring 4 Tampons program to collect donations across Toronto, raising over $1000! We have also dedicated efforts to raise awareness on period stigma and menstrual inequality through our Instagram page, and appearances on a panel and podcast! Finally, Our Code Red has teamed up with DIVACares in a pilot partnership, where we received a huge supply of donations with the task of serving low income communities and educating citizens on the value (economic and environmental) of diva cups.

From my understanding, Our Code Red was created during the pandemic. How has the current situation guided the way your organization runs?

Throughout the pandemic, homeless and low income communities have been continuously underserved, with barriers to accessing menstrual products becoming even greater. Our Code Red seeks to prioritize inclusivity and recognize the importance of connecting personally with the communities/organizations we work with, to ensure our actions may leave lasting consequences and are successfully meeting the needs of low income menstruators.

What advice would you give to individuals who are interested in advocating for a certain cause, but don’t know where to start?

The most important step that will truly allow your activism to take off is a thorough understanding of why you are advocating. There is always room for your ideas to be brought to the table, but establishing a clearer sense of the purpose (or the mission statement) of your actions will guide you to properly assert your role within your community. This way, you have a “mission” or a goal that all your accomplishments and partners can follow. Good luck, and we commend you for your initiative!

What are the next steps for Our Code Red?

Currently, we have a variety of projects in the works. Our research team is continuing to build our partnership with DivaCups, which is a major menstrual product brand. We’ve already made huge strides with this partnership, and we are looking forward to the future connections that it will bring! Our outreach team is also working on establishing the new shelter that we will be working with for the next 4 months while maintaining ongoing initiatives, such as our tutoring service, Tutoring 4 Tampons. Lastly, our communications team is working on increasing our social media presence by reaching out to well-established organizations and creating educational posts for our community to consume. Overall, these next few months will be a time for us to continue building our community presence, and we cannot wait for all that is to come!

How can someone get involved with Our Code Red?

We are always on the lookout for new members and volunteers! If you are interested in joining OCR, in a small way or with a long-term role, reach out to us at ourcodered@gmail.com!

The members of the Our Code Red team (Our Code Red)!

Vidya, Kismet and Nicole’s dedication and passion for making a difference in society is evident through their work with Our Code Red. If you want to learn more about Our Code Red’s mission and work, you can check them out on Instagram @ourcodered. We can’t wait to see the amazing initiatives Our Code Red implements in the future!

Article Authors: Asima Hudani, Vidya Pandiaraju, Kismet Reuss, Nicole Fan

Article Editors: Olivia Ye