Chelsea VonChaz’s job as a fashion stylist sounded like her dream career — she spent her days dressing Hollywood celebrities in gorgeous designer clothes. But after five years, VonChaz didn’t feel like she had purpose.
“It became really draining,” the now 30-year-old tells PEOPLE. “I was in this depressive state and I knew it was because this was not what I was supposed to be doing.”
One day in 2015, as VonChaz was driving through Los Angeles to drop off clothes, she spotted a homeless woman crossing the street.
“She had that infamous period stain on the back of her butt. And I say infamous because all of us can relate to that,” VonChaz says. “And the big question for me was, if that was me, what resources do I have if I’m on day one of my period? Where would I go, who would I talk to, where would I get my pads or tampons, underwear. Where can I go take a shower. Where can I go lay down to deal with these cramps?”
As soon as she got home, VonChaz started researching the options available to homeless women on their period and came up empty. She learned that shelters are not required to provide menstrual products, and they don’t typically allocate donation money towards buying any.
“I was like, that’s so crazy,” she says. “It’s ridiculous. I wanted to do something.”
VonChaz rallied her friends in a group email, and they pooled their money to create kits of pads, tampons, liners, wipes, soap and underwear — in bright yellow bags emblazoned with Happy Period, the name that she and a friend came up with — that they then passed out to women on the streets of L.A. in February.
“Their reaction was so overwhelming in the greatest way,” VonChaz says of the homeless women. “We were hearing, ‘Oh, nobody ever gives us this. Thank you.’ ‘Damn, I really needed this.’ ‘How’d you know my period just came?’ ”
VonChaz and her friends started doing it every month, and by April women were flagging them down on the street.
“By this time people would recognize us. I remember this lady literally came out of the Union Rescue Mission down on Skid Row, and she was like, ‘Yo, did I miss the Happy Period bags? Are y’all out?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we have some,’ “ VonChaz recalls.
“At that moment I was like, yo, this is so purposeful, and it felt so good. I definitely can’t stop.”
For more stories of women who reinvented themselves, pick up the Dec. 24 issue of PEOPLE.
That month VonChaz filed the paperwork to make Happy Period an official non-profit, and by August she left the fashion world behind to work on it full-time. She regularly passes out the bright yellow bags in L.A., filled with donated products from brands like Thinx and several organic tampon companies, and now has ambassadors in 32 cities across the U.S. and Canada who do the same in their area.
“They’re doing the work and fulfilling the mission of Happy Period, and spreading awareness about the lack of access to menstrual products, promoting menstrual equity and serving their own communities wherever they live,” she says.
Collect, assemble, then distribute!
A post shared by #HappyPeriod Organization (@happyperiodorg) on Oct 25, 2018 at 8:07pm PDT
And VonChaz says that, looking back, she absolutely made the right choice to leave fashion for Happy Period.
“No question, if, ands or buts about it,” she says. “I’m in a much better space now. It’s more purposeful work, and that’s really what always mattered to me in the beginning anyway.”