REALTOR's Red Basket Project Fights Period Poverty and Empowers Community

Beth Gilbreath has always wanted to help people, that’s part of the reason she became a REALTOR in the first place nearly 15 years ago. 

Beth helps her clients in the Dubuque area realize their dream of homeownership, putting them on a path to finding financial stability and breaking generational poverty. But her desire to better her community doesn’t stop there. She’s also the co-founder of the Red Basket Project, ensuring that every person in the community has access to period products when they need them. 

“As REALTORS, we get to be involved in people’s lives at a pretty intimate level. We rely on our community so much, this is just an easy way to give back,” Beth said of the non-profit, which provides nearly 1,800 period packs to the community each month. 

Beth and a friend founded the Red Basket Project in 2016 over lunch. 

“We’ve both been involved in the community and I was on the board for the Dubuque Rescue Mission, we were talking and the question about where people go when they don’t have funds for period products came up,” Beth recalls. “We decided at that moment what our name was going to be and that we were going to fund the project for the summer to see where the need was.” 

It became abundantly clear there was in fact tremendous need within our community, Beth said as local agencies working with those on the margins, began reaching out.  

“We quickly found it was more than we could do on our own, so we started a facebook page. That’s how we got the majority of the products we distributed for the first two years,” she said. “We grew so quickly because various agencies and schools were reaching out to us because they didn’t have it in their budget to provide these products for their clients.”

Since becoming a 501(c) 3 organization in 2019, Beth has served as President of the non profit organization and volunteers over 25 hours each week to keep the project going.  

Today, The Red Basket Project provides “period packs,” which consist of small reusable bags filled with enough pads, tampons, liners, sanitary wipes and one chocolate (just because), to get someone through their menstrual cycle, throughout Dubuque County and the community school district. 

“Some people might think it’s a convenience factor, that you go into a bathroom and the products are there. But this is more than that, it’s enough products to get through the entire cycle,” Beth said. “We go through approx. 1,800 period packs each month. It's a constant need. Products are coming in everyday and then going out the door. It’s a constant need.” 

While Beth previously stored all of the donated products at her home and brought materials to other’s homes for “period packing parties,” the Red Basket Project recently obtained a grant and leased an office space next to Beth’s real estate office in Dubuque. “It’s been a game changer” Beth states. 

That’s where members of the East Central Iowa Association of REALTORS (ECIAR) recently visited to take part in their own period packing party as part of the Iowa Association of REALTORS’ Summer of Service initiative.  

“When Beth first brought this to my attention it was quite eye opening,” Jeff Hefel, president of ECIAR, said. “This is the type of thing that makes some men uncomfortable to talk about, but thinking about what it would be like for my daughters, if we didn't have the means for these necessities made me want to help any way I could. I was part of a period packing party last month, and my job was to get the bags unzipped and put tampons in them before sending them down the line for pads and more. I'm happy and proud that Beth runs this organization locally and that the ECIAR is involved with it. I'll be at the next one for sure!”

Melissa Groth, chief executive officer for ECIAR, helped arrange the period packing party for members. Over two days, the group packed nearly 1,100 bags for The Red Basket Project. 

“The impact of the Red Basket Project is truly awe-inspiring, as they diligently distribute over 1,800 period packs every month to those in need throughout Dubuque and the surrounding area. Bringing together REALTOR members to assist the Red Basket Project for a Period Packing Party was such an enjoyable event,” Melissa said. “Laughter filled the air as we speedily packed with purpose. We formed an assembly line and got to work, each REALTOR member with a different job. We even had a friendly competition to see which Period Packing Party could produce the most packs. Being able to volunteer and support the Red Basket Project was such a pleasure for our members and we are so proud of all they do for our community.”

ECIAR wasn’t the only real estate-minded group to reach out to Beth to volunteer. She notes that several agents around town either host donation drop-off sites at their offices or spend their own time packing bags when they can. 

“This has opened a world of support,” Beth said. “The real estate world has helped with support both financially and in terms of volunteer hours. This is absolutely a community project and we are so grateful for the support.”

While Beth has seen the need for period products in the community from the sheer volume of distribution and calls she receives from organizations, she’s also witnessed it first hand while distributing products. 

She recalls recently replenishing the bags in a bathroom at the Dubuque Rescue Mission. When she came out a woman in the cafeteria asked if she was the lady who puts products in the bathroom. When she said she was, the woman thanked her profusely.

“She said her family comes to the Mission for most meals and she was able to get products there,” Beth recalled. “When I was leaving her husband stopped me and gave me the biggest hug. He told me that he worked two jobs and knowing that his wife could access period products from the mission was a God-send.” 

“You put yourself in their shoes. There is so much food insecurity and you know if there is food insecurity, there is period poverty. If you have to choose between food and period products, food is going to win every time. It’s just so easy to provide someone a little bit of dignity by providing period products.” she said. 

Members looking to offer support to the Red Basket Project can make donations of products, financial support and assistance in packing products throughout the year. You can find more information on donating here. 

If you’re looking to make an impact in your own community, Beth suggests exploring your own Red Basket Project. Since the creation of the non-profit, Beth has assisted others in starting their own chapters. There are Red Basket Projects currently in Jackson County and Iowa City. 

“Never underestimate the power and the dignity that you are providing someone by giving them something so basic as period products,” Beth said. “That’s the thing, there are no questions, no judgment, it’s not a handout it’s a hand-up”. As someone who came from not a lot, and relied on the generosity of others at times, it’s nice to give it back.” 

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