Pam McKown’s embarrassing moments surrounding tampons have mostly involved hiding the product at the bottom of a shopping cart or purchasing M&M’s to cover the box at the checkout counter.

Hygiene products used by virtually every woman remain a shrouded topic many won’t discuss above a whisper but are a vital and hard-to-come-by necessity for homeless women or women simply struggling to make ends meet, Amanda Haygood said.

McKown and Haygood hope to meet the need of area women by supplying free hygienic items with the launch of their new nonprofit Take Heart Ministries.

Six months in and the duo have distributed about 100 purple totes. Each bag carries about a month’s supply of pads and tampons, bottled water, granola bars and cleansing wipes. It takes $25 to fill a bag.

Take Heart Ministries is about more than just handing out pads and tampons, McKown, of Hewitt, said. The purpose is to build relationships and unite women from every spectrum of the community. The totes of donated items are just a first step to connecting women in an effort to build one another up.

“There’s been a great element of hanging my head in shame and feeling disconnected, and not a part of things. I think as women we all struggle with that,” McKown said. “The secretness of trying to make it look good on the outside when it’s really all falling apart. . . . Hey, there’s more to life than this. You can lift your head and you can feel worthy of love.

“If women are honest, if we’re all honest, we’ve all felt some level of hurt and we’ve all felt good things. But I think women are very good at not being honest, so we want to engage the community in a dialogue. What would it look like if all women were real and we could connect with each other in that way? That would be instrumental in changing the community. We want other women to come and learn. I can be real with my story and share that with somebody else who may need to know it can get better. Just because you’re fully employed and whatnot doesn’t mean you didn’t come from somewhere and had to fight a battle to get there.”

“Or even that you’re going through a battle right now,” Haygood said.

McKown, 33, and Haygood, 31, said they decided to create the nonprofit after realizing the lack of services dedicated to providing hygiene items for women.

There’s no criteria to receive a bag. Being a woman is enough, they said.

McKown, a social worker, said they modeled Take Heart Ministries on the nonprofit Distributing Dignity in New Jersey, which aims to distribute new bras, pads and tampons to women. The duo said they’ve reached out to Caritas of Waco and the Family Abuse Center and are donating bags there as needed.

The cofounders said they hope to increase collaboration efforts with other nonprofits, agencies, churches and organizations interested in expanding the services offered by Take Heart Ministries.

“This is not going to solve homelessness, but this could allow a woman to have one less thing to worry about,” McKown said.

Tammy Stevens, Caritas of Waco program director, said Take Heart Ministries is serving a hugely undeserved community need.

Stevens said she’s excited about how the partnership between the two nonprofits will develop.

“It’s going to be awesome,” she said. “We see a lot of homeless, male and female, that come through here on a weekly basis. This is such a gap.”

Take Heart Ministries will deliver about 25 totes this week to Caritas, which will deliver the products where needed.

“They do not want a female in need to be turned away. That’s the thing,” Stevens said, describing how the new nonprofit isn’t just aimed at the homeless.

She said while Caritas is primarily a food pantry, the organization does so much more than that, including case management on a emergency assistance and long-term basis. She said the organization works to help people overcome situations and barriers to become self sufficient again.

“Whenever you have that thing that happens every month and you know it’s going to happen and you don’t have the money to take care of it, it may mean you can’t go to work,” Stevens said. “We’re so excited about this partnership. We’re thrilled to death.”

Stevens said Caritas used to receive plenty of donated female hygiene products years ago, but those donations have long since dried up.

“That’s just one of the items we don’t get any more,” she said.

McKown said she knew she could have written a check and given it to an existing nonprofit, but she felt like that wasn’t enough.

“I want to get my hands dirty. I want to be relationally connected with women that we would help,” said McKown, who received her master’s degree in social work from Baylor University.

The duo are already dreaming of expanding.

McKown said she hopes added partnerships will allow for an organization to contact Take Heart Ministries when it has someone with a need. Then, she said, they can present the woman with the bag, while also offering to take measurements for new bras and underwear. Between the several meetings with the woman, she said, she hopes a mentoring relationship can blossom.

The duo said they hope to find others willing to love these women and, in a way, be their cheerleaders in life.

‘Meet someone’s need’

“I think we both have a heart for what we’re doing,” McKown said. “We really just want to love on people but in a practical way, to meet someone’s need and see how they are really doing.”

Haygood, who works at the Greater Waco Chamber, said she and McKown both have a passion and desire to give back by serving women and those less fortunate as everyone is in need of love and dignity. Haygood, who received her master’s degree in public administration at Ashford University, said they have created a preliminary board of directors for the nonprofit that will start meeting after the first of the year.

Until then, the duo use social media and word of mouth to spread the nonprofit’s message. People interested in being a part of the movement can donate products or money or offer their homes up to serve as a collection site for donations to be dropped off.

McKown said they would also love any invitations to speak at events, churches or organizations for people who want to learn more about Take Heart Ministries.

“When I talked to a friend when I was first pitching this idea, ‘What’s really the most inconvenienced we’ve ever been?’ ” McKown said. “So you put [pads or tampons] at the bottom of your grocery basket so nobody sees it, or you buy a thing of M&M’s to distract from it, if that’s the only thing you’re buying. That’s as inconvenienced as we’ve ever been. People are trying to figure out how to make, in the international world, how to make leaves and whatnot as pads. People are using extra toilet paper, and it’s just completely unsanitary things that create illness and infection and all that.”

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