Things to Consider
Types of pad
Pad making Suggestions/Points to consider
Whether or not your personal preference is for waterproofing, its probably a good idea to have donated pads waterproofed. Particularly with something like PUL or if you can't find/afford that then make them as waterproof as you can - perhaps using microfleece as well as a ripstop nylon layer - neither of which are "waterproof" on their own, but together will give more water-resistance than using just microfleece alone. The aim is to try and bring comfort and protection to women who can't make their own pads, or afford to buy them. As well as providing something they can use as long as possible, as they won't have the luxury of having lots of pads to use through their cycle, and they may not be able to change their pads very regularly. So pads that can be worn for longer lengths of time and still be effective are important and the women are not going to have as many leakage problems.
Not all women's flow needs are the same, so because they will not have the ability to get more pads, it's better to make sure they have enough protection, just in case. If you can't do waterproofing because of cost/availablity, then you might like to work on making storage bags or wetbags or work together with someone to make base+insert, foldable or belted styles where you can use less waterproofing.
There is some debate about what would style is best suited. If making pads for sending to an organisation, it is a good idea to contact them to see what types of pad they would like to receive. What you make might be limited by what fabrics you can obtain. Some options are:
This is a winged "base" or "holder" which has inserts sitting on top, held in place by pockets on the ends of the pad, or straps. The advantage of this style is that if the base is made from waterproofed synthetic fabrics, it can be wiped clean and just the inserts changed while the same base is used. This lessens the number of pads each recipient needs. The inserts not being sewn in, will dry faster and offer more adjustability than AIOs. They also have the advantage that the women can make their own inserts from fabric they have if they need more.
This is a pad that is basically a thin winged pad shape, with a rectangle of fabric sewn to it - this rectangle folds to provide the absorbency down the centre of the pad where needed. When the pad is hung up to dry, the fold-up section opens up and dries more quickly than if the layers were sewn in like with an AIO pad. The fold-up pad can be made with a strip of waterproofing, so that it has a waterproof layer to help reduce leaks - using less waterproofing than a whole AIO pad would. The whole pad needs to be changed like an AIO pad does.
Pocket pad This is a winged "envelope", "case" or "pocket" (Different people call it different names) into which goes absorbent inserts - so just like a pillow case is an empty cover that your pillow goes into, a pocket pad has an outer case and an opening on the underside where you put in the absorbent inserts. As with the base+Insert pad, this style is adjustable - allowing women to put more or less absorbency into it depending on their needs, and women can use their own cloth to increase absorbency if they need to. The inserts and pad can dry faster than an AIO. However the whole thing needs to be changed each time, unlike the base+insert
AIO pad This has the waterproofing and absorbency sewn in. The advantage of these is that they are used the same way as disposables - no need to add inserts, just put it into the underpants, snap it around and it's ready to use,making this style much easier to use. They will take longer to dry and may not wash clean as quickly as styles that can come apart like the pocket or base+insert.
Belted pad This style is thought of to be old and uncomfortable, but in a situation where women will not have underpants in which to wear the standard pads, these really are a more appropriate option. Basically they are a style that suspends the pad from a belt worn at the waist/hips. So they are worn without underpants.
Number of pads needed
Giving as many pads as possible per woman would make their life easier. Some agencies seem to be giving 1 pad to a women, which is really not going to help much, as what will she do when that 1 pad is being washed. The number of pads I would recommend per woman depends on the type of pad.
AIO pads - 5-6 Fold-up pads - 5-6 Pocket pads - About 4-5 Base+insert pads - About 2-3 waterproofed bases and 6-9 inserts (if base is not waterproofed, then 3-4 bases)
More would be fantastic, but this would be minimum needed. If possible these sets could include a storage bag or "wetbag" and instructions. Cloth pads would need to be changed as regularly as a disposable pad would, so enough pads to last at least 1-2 days is important.
An assortment of lengths per set would be optimal to give a variety of options. Ones suitable for day and night use. A "medium" absorbency is probably most useful where pads would be limited. Too many layers sewn into a pad makes drying time longer, but too few layers may not provide enough absorbency for the wearer.
Which way up
Another issue to be mindful of, is letting the wearer know which way up the pad goes. While it might be obvious to you, it may not be for the wearer. One way to do this is to make sure there is stitching (such as "channel lines") on the top of the pad. Another option is to put a lable on the under-side of the pad.
One reason a base+insert or Pocket style is useful is that absorbency levels are adjustable and don't have to be labelled. If sending AIO pads, we came up with an idea for marking the absorbency where literacy may be an issue. Using a system of drop symbols, and corresponding pictures in the instruction sheets, if you can obtain iron on clothing labels, you can use them to show the absorbency of the padsand helps the women know which way up the pads are worn (label down).
Fabric Print Considerations
Something worth noting is that where these pads end up may not be somewhere as culturally diverse or "open" as ours is. So while flaming skulls, pinup girls and other such fabric prints might be "cool" or interesting for us, they could be viewed differently by the women the pads are being sent to. So please keep this in mind. Plain fabrics or simple florals and geometic patterns are probably better than characters and other things.
As mentioned above, not all women wear underpants (and not just because they can't afford them). The underwear page has more information on this, but you might like to include underpants with your pad donations, and another option is to make string bikini style underpants with the tie string sides. This allows the one size garment to be adjusted to fit virtually any sized woman. As snug fitting underpants are important when using cloth pads, this style of underwear could provide a better fit on a wider range of women than buying regular elasticated underpants when you do not know the size of the women who will be wearing them. If making these yourself, you could use FOE (Fold over elastic) on the edging for a snug fitting.
"Wetbag" & Storage Bags
A wetbag is the name given to the leakproof bag that can be used to carry used pads in. Including wetbags in your pad donations is a good idea, as it allows women to carry a clean pad with them, and change while they are out - and provides a secure place for the used pad. A storage bag - such as a drawstring pouch, might also be a nice idea, as it can provide a place for the pads and wetbag to be placed while not in use.