A 17-year-old from Shelburne has spent much of the year working to help thousands of Vermonters with a very specific health care need.

Emma Anderson graduated last month from Champlain Valley Union High School, and she’s making a push to expand her work well beyond the Green Mountain State.

“One day at school, I had a friend come up to me and ask me if I had extra products on me, and it was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t,” she said.

In that moment, Emma hit upon the idea for the social-impact initiative she’d take on as part of her ultimately successful quest to become Miss Vermont’s Outstanding Teen 2021. It’s essentially the little sister to Miss America.

“In that moment, I recognized how difficult going to class can be if you don’t have an extra pad or tampon on your at the time,” Emma said.

As part of her project, which she calls ‘Necessity, Not Luxury’, she’s collected more than 15,500 donated menstrual products. They’re for people of all ages, and not only women, since there are Vermonters who menstruate who don’t identify as female.

“That is also another goal of my project — moving away from terms like ‘feminine hygiene products’ to kind of be more inclusive and move towards that level of, people can menstruate without identifying as female,” Emma said.

She also doesn’t only want to make menstrual products more easily available. Emma wants to advocate as widely as she can to end the taxes that many states have on these items. Vermont just did away with taxes on menstrual products on July 1.

“I’m really appreciative that lawmakers were able to see that (was necessary),” she said. “I was trying to be in contact with specific lawmakers, as well as my local representatives.”

The Williston Community Food Shelf is one of the organizations Emma has helped out with the donated products. They have a constant and sizable need for menstrual products for their clients.

“It’s one of those things that — if it’s food or feminine products, families go with food,” board member Jen Selwa said. “So, for her to be able to help us supplement out clients in our program with those feminine products, it’s amazing.”

The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen finals are on Friday, July 30 in Orlando, Florida. If Emma wins, she plans to expand her work as far throughout the nation as she can. That expansion will likely include advocacy work in Maine, the only Northeastern state that still taxes menstrual products.

If you’d like to donate, you can coordinate a pickup or learn about Emma’s Amazon wish list for the project by clicking here to reach out to her on Instagram.