Since a "Dignity Vending Machine" was installed in the women's bathroom of Newcastle's Soul Cafe six months ago, the cafe's guests have accessed over 400 boxes of tampons and sanitary pads for free.
With $33,400 in funding from nib foundation, women's homelessness charity Share the Dignity has been able to install two more machines in the bathrooms of community centre The Place, in Charlestown, and Cessnock High School. The machines dispense boxes containing a mix of sanitary items for free.
Soul Cafe's general manager Matthew Ortiger said the machine provided a practical service while saving visitors to the cafe the embarrassment of asking staff for sanitary items, which he said happened "daily". The cafe provides 700 free meals to disadvantaged members of the community each week.
"Many of the vulnerable people who come here, who are homeless, have mental illnesses, disabilities or are suffering domestic violence, don't have access to these products," Mr Ortiger said. "Some might have a home but once you pay rent and bills, for hygiene products there's not a lot of money left. The machine helps address a need in a private way."
Share the Dignity volunteer, Lesley Slevin of Newcastle, who is responsible for stocking Soul Cafe's vending machine, said she has had to fill it more frequently, as the popularity of the machine has increased over time.
She explained the vending machine is designed to only dispense one box every 10 minutes to ensure people are using it "responsibly".
"It just stops that vandalism element which would be a teeny, weeny proportion of the population," she said.
Share the Dignity has installed 126 of the machines around the country in high schools, women's refuges, public bathrooms and neighbourhood centres. Ms Slevin said the charity aimed to make the machines as widespread as possible. Mr Ortiger agreed with that aim, saying the cafe's provision of hygiene products was likely meeting "the tip of the iceberg" of need in Newcastle.
Executive officer of nib foundation Amy Tribe said the charity awarded Share the Dignity funding for the three machines during a pitch night held by the foundation 12 months ago. She said learning about Share the Dignity's work had been an "eye opener".
"Myself and a lot of my female colleagues were quite and confronted to learn about the need for something we've always taken for granted, having easy access to sanitary products," Ms Tribe said.
"Having the machines installed in venues like Soul Cafe mean we are reaching the most vulnerable in our community. Hopefully, it helps its users build confidence to access more services while they are here."