Image: Photo of Sheryl Luna by Miriam Juarez.
It’s 2:06PM on a typically hot Sunday afternoon. I’ve just found a table at my local Starbucks, where I have arranged to meet Sheryl. Sheryl is the founder of Aunt F.L.O., a local group whose members spend their spare time helping homeless women in the Greater Los Angeles area.
Aunt F.L.O. stands for the Fundamental Labial Organization, and they gather together to donate pads, tampons, and hygienic products to the Downtown Homeless Women’s Shelter on the infamously impoverished Skid Row.
I see Sheryl, wave her over to have a seat, and we instantly begin talking. The Sunday rush is very much real at Starbucks and with all the commotion, I worry about being able to hear her properly. Luckily, her quirky, vibrant, and joyful spirit quickly grabs my attention and I ease up.
FEM: Tell me a little about yourself, what do you do, who you are, and what you strive to be.
S: Okay, well, my name is Sheryl Luna. I’m a student. I work at The Palladium and at a pizza place at the moment. My hobbies include hiking, biking, skating, I can’t really….I don’t know. I feel like such a boring person. (laughs). I’ve always enjoyed helping people, so I think that one day I would love a career in a nonprofit. I’m studying anthropology right now. I want to travel. I guess I’m still figuring it out. What was the question again?
FEM: So what is Aunt F.L.O. ? What made you start it?
S: Basically, our main goal is to educate people and also provide support to women that are less fortunate and don’t get those supplies. We’ve all been in that situation where we’re in the bathroom and you have to ask the girl next to you, “Do you have a pad? Do you have a pad or tampon? I forgot mine at home” or something like that. And let’s face it; it’s not a cheap commodity. It’s expensive for us who have jobs and homes, but it’s even harder for women that don’t have anything and live on the streets. Personally, I get really violent periods. I’m vomiting and on the floor. I know I’m not the only one who goes through that.
I guess I got the idea from my mom’s friend who used to buy packs of underwear and donate them to homeless shelters, and I thought that was really smart. But I thought, what about something women need every single month? That’s where I kind of got the idea, and it became really personal for me because I know it’s really hard to deal with periods. There’s a lot of stigma around menstruation and therefore people don’t really think about that. People just think blankets, food, water, shelter, but I also think that tampons and pads are overlooked.
FEM: So tell me about Aunt F.L.O.’s current project?
S: My friend shared this post with a purse on it and read: Next time you have an old purse, fill it with goodies and hygiene products and hand it over to a homeless woman. We thought that would be a great idea to do. So basically what we’re doing is collecting any bags we don’t use, any purse, backpacks, make-up bags, fanny packs, whatever. We want to collect a nice assortment. Besides tampons and pads, we’re trying to collect blankets, snacks, old books, lotions, water, scarves, beanies, gloves. Our deadline is December 5th. A lot of people are really reaching out to me. Whatever we collect, we want to go deliver by the 5th.
During the rest of our conversation, Sheryl tells me about her work with Aunt F.L.O. She tells me about the backlash she’s received on the Internet from men who think she shouldn’t be talking about periods. She tells me about having to figure out a mode of transportation to take the donations by December 5 she doesn’t drive. She tells me about working fifty hours this past week. She tells me about Aunt F.LO.’s tight knit community, an organization of about nine to ten people who are from Torrance, Carson, Hollywood, and South Central.
What called out to me when I heard about Aunt F.L.O. was its mere existence. I know how impoverished East Hollywood can be, so the sense of “community” never really matched my neighborhood. Resources and local organizations like this are almost unheard of, and Aunt F.L.O. and girls like Sheryl are much needed in my community. Not only is Aunt F.L.O. doing a great service to the homeless women of Los Angeles, but they also set a great example to the girls of my community.
We’re taught to not talk about the period, to not complain about the period, and to repulse at the thought of the period. The stigma’s consequences are heavy, and therefore people forget that our homeless population everywhere are in dire need of basic life necessities. For those who menstruate, tampons and pads can be life changing. To be open about our menstruation also helps us realize that there is nothing to be ashamed of. For this, I promptly thank Sheryl and Kiara, as well as the other members of Aunt F.L.O. who have not forgotten about the needs of our neighborhoods.
Their most current project has a goal to collect as many items by December 5. For this holiday season, please reach out and support. You can also support them by liking their Facebook page, or following their Instagram, @auntflo_.