IT'S shocking enough to hear of girls in third world countries missing school or using tissue wadded in a sock because they can't afford proper sanitary protection.

But when she realised that girls on her own doorstep were suffering such period poverty, Vie Portland from Woolston decided to do something about it.

She set up the Southampton branch of the Red Box Project, which provides girls with free sanitary towels and tampons to last the duration of their periods.

The body confidence coach from Woolston set up the group in July, and is about to install the sixth box of sanitary wear and new spare underwear in a local school.

In order to put a box in a school, she needs not just to fill it but also to know that she has sufficient regular donations to ensure that it can be regularly topped up.

"It's hard to believe that girls are having to miss school or use unhygienic things like socks instead of sanitary towels in this day and age," she says.

"Girls are missing school, risking infection and may be too concerned that they are going to start leaking in class to be able to concentrate.

"Some people say 'can't they afford to pay £1 for a pack of sanitary towels,' but they don't understand how hard up some of these families are.

"The average woman spends £5 on sanitary protection each period. If you've got a family with a couple of daughters, that soon adds up to a substantial amount."

The first Red Box project was set up in May, following the publication of a newspaper story which revealed that a police officer working at a school in Leeds had discovered a large number of female pupils were truanting during their periods because they were unable to buy sanitary products.

The number of children living in poverty stands at 23 per cent in Southampton, worse than the average of 19 per cent across the whole of England.

Vie placed her first boxes in local schools in September, and there has been demand for the products.

While schools normally have some sanitary products available for girls who are caught out, the scheme aims to provide girls with what they need to last the whole of their period, as well as new knickers for anyone who is caught out when their period starts.

And Vie is now looking to add basic toiletries for both boys and girls to the boxes.

"Our aim is to get a box into every local school that needs one," says Vie.

"They're definitely being used, as we're topping them up regularly. We need to know that we're going to have regular donations before we put a box into a school, because it's no good if it's there one month and then empty the next."

Vie and the project's supporters are now adding basic toiletries to the boxes.

"We realised that if people can't afford sanitary protection, they probably can't afford toiletries wither, so we have started to provide basics, such as shower gel, deodorant, toothpaste etc.

"Particularly for teenagers, not to feel clean, tidy and presentable must be demoralising."

Regular supporters are asked to donate a packet of sanitary towels or tampons a month and two packs of knickers a year, while some also make one off cash or product donations.

Some workplaces, including Unison, have collection points so staff can donate, while HQ hairdressers in Portswood and the Co-Op at Foyes Corner in Shirley also have drop off points, and there are a number of collection points at people's homes.

While her focus is on getting boxes into Southampton schools, she says she would try to help schools in the wider area if approached, and a new Red Box Project has recently been launched in Eastleigh.

Vie believes that one reason why period poverty may be a particular issue is that menstruation is still something of a taboo subject.

"There is still such reticence about talking about periods, which is ridiculous, as none of us would exist without them!"

For more information and to support the Red Box Project Southampton, find the group's Facebook page.