Shaylin Caldwell was wearing turquoise shorts when she got her first period at school.
She was leaning on the back of a chair in her seventh grade classroom when her teacher asked her if she wanted to sit down.
Caldwell didn’t quite understand why her teacher said that. Then her friend pointed to her shorts. Her turquoise shorts, now stained red, startled the 12-year-old.
“Like I knew what was happening, but I still didn’t really understand,” said Caldwell, now a 19-year-old student at Coastal Carolina University. “I didn’t know what a period felt like.”
With her jacket tied around her waist, she went to the bathroom, crying and embarrassed, to call her mom.
“She said the day was almost over, so I just had to ride it out,” she said. “I went to art class next and I couldn’t focus. I was devastated.”
As a college student, Caldwell now helps her school’s social justice club make period packs to donate to those in Horry County who sometimes have to “ride it out” each month when their period comes because they can’t afford essential products. But health advocates maintain that South Carolina can do more to improve access to these items, especially in schools.
The situation is particularly difficult in a state where nearly 15% of the population lives in poverty, and in Horry County, where nearly 13% of the population is impoverished, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data.