is no stranger to homelessness. At age 15, she and her
sisters spent seven months homeless and couch surfing after
her mother lost her job.
“I grew up in New York City until I was 9, when my parents
divorced and my mom moved my sisters and I to Portland,
Oregon,” Okamoto said. Life was pretty normal until the
spring of Okamoto’s sophomore year of high school, when her
mother lost her job and could no longer pay for their home.
So for seven months, her family was declared legally
homeless, staying with friends or living in temporary
“Even though we always managed to have a roof over our heads,
I felt the depression and anxiety over my living situation,
especially because I had to keep up at school like a regular
teen,” she said.
Paying for pads and tampons was the last thing she wanted to
worry about, but Okamoto said her period still caused her to
skip gym class or days of school because she wasn’t prepared.
there’s a high need for tampons and pads among homeless
women, many shelters don’t supply them.
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“First of all, these women are even afraid to talk about
their periods, let alone advocate for themselves and ask the
shelters for menstrual products, because there’s such a
stigma,” said Okamoto.
Because many women are too embarrassed to ask for menstrual
products, Okamoto said there is a lack of demonstrated need
for shelters or nonprofits to direct funding and resources to
it. As a result, many of them simply don’t have a structured,
sustainable program to provide pads and tampons like they do
for food or clothing.
“The whole thing is a vicious supply-demand cycle which
prevents homeless women from getting the menstrual hygiene
products they so desperately need,” Okamoto said.
realized a simple act like giving away menstrual products and
showing women we care about their periods could do so much,
and that motivated me to start this organization,” Okamoto
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“I couldn’t sleep thinking about what these women had to go
through and how there was no organizations dedicated
specifically to improving their menstrual hygiene,” she said.
So after Okamoto’s family regained financial stability and
moved back into their home, she founded Camions of Care.
“It’s a youth-driven nonprofit that strives to manage and
celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education, and
research,” she said.
Okamoto recalled the second time she delivered care packages
at a local homeless shelter, when one woman started crying
because she was so shocked that anyone cared about her
period. “That moment still makes me cry, too, because I
realize how important this truly is to women,” Okamoto said.
of Care makes packages with enough tampons and pads for one
period, and the organization partners with local shelters to
distribute them to women.
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One package comes with nine tampons, five panty liners, and
four maxi pads. It costs Camions of Care just $1 to make it,
due to generous donations, Okamoto said. The group holds
events and drives to pack up the products in “care packages”
that are given to women.
Previously, Okamoto was delivering the packages herself to
shelters or women on the streets in Portland. In order to
reach women on a wider geographic scale, Okamoto and the 40
Camions of Care chapters send packages to shelters and
nonprofits in cities around the country who distribute them
hopes to expand Camions of Care to break the period stigma and
make menstrual hygiene more accessible all over the world.
“We currently distribute about 1,500 packages each month, and
we’re working to build up our donor network and monetary
resources so we can increase that number,” she said.
Another goal is to do more research and collect data on the
menstrual hygiene of homeless women in the United States so
that the nonprofit can identity need and impact.
9. “Our job
is done when menstrual hygiene is a right, not a privilege,”
Okamoto was recently named a 2016 L’Oréal Paris Women of
Worth Honoree for her work with Camions of Care, and is now
running to be a National Honoree and win an additional
$25,000 for her cause.
She said she hopes to win and use these funds to reach
homeless women in all 50 states and even more countries in
Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.
Camions of Care