Maureen Winkler Belger ’87

Maureen Winkler Belger ’87

Picture of Maureen (Winkler) Belger

Maureen (Winkler) Belger ’87 at work in the Framingham, Mass., warehouse of Dignity Matters.

Helping to Solve a Real-World Problem.

Period poverty, defined as lack of access to affordable menstrual care, is a big crisis in the United States and it’s not really talked about.

— Maureen Belger ’87

When Maureen (Winkler) Belger ’87 was applying to colleges from her home in Wantagh, N.Y., she was drawn to Fairfield by its Ignatian emphasis on service to others. Of course, as generations of alumni have admitted in this magazine’s pages over the years, the prospect of enjoying salt air breezes on the coast of Long Island Sound didn’t hurt either.

Jogues One became Belger’s home away from home for her first two years in Stag country. “I feel very fortunate that I ended up there,” she said, recalling countless nights working on problem sets with fellow math majors in the residence hall lounge. “The people I was closest to all through Fairfield, I first met in Jogues.”

Fairfield’s emphasis on service to others, was immediately apparent to Belger within the Math Department faculty, particularly her mentor Joseph Dennin, PhD, who helped her navigate holding down a part-time job as a full-time student, and statistics professor Ben Fine, PhD, who recruited Belger for an internship her senior year, working on a textbook he was writing. “It counted as a stats class,” she said, “and was an unbelievable experience.”

After graduation, Belger took her problem-solving and analytical skills to New York City where she worked in the commercial insurance industry as a chartered property and casualty underwriter and taught business classes in insurance at both St. John’s University and Hofstra.

In 2005, she relocated to Hopkinton, Mass., with her husband John and daughters. There, in 2017, a friend first introduced her to the non-profit startup Dignity Matters.

Launched in the basement of founder Kate Sanetra-Butler’s home in 2016, Dignity Matters collects, purchases, and supplies menstrual hygiene products, bras, and underwear to women and girls in Massachusetts who are homeless or disadvantaged. As a mom to three girls, the organization’s mission to combat period poverty and help women live with dignity resonated with Belger.

“Period poverty, defined as lack of access to affordable menstrual care, is a big crisis in the United States and it’s not really talked about,” she said. “We think of it as a ‘third world,’ not a ‘first-world’ problem.”

What began as a weekly volunteer gig – sorting, packing, and delivering donated supplies to local shelters and food pantries – evolved two years later into a part-time job researching, writing, and applying for grants as the foundation relations officer for Dignity Matters.

A member of the development team, Belger has helped propel the non-profit’s explosive growth. “In March 2020, we were serving 3,000 women and girls,” she said, “and by December of that year, our monthly numbers were up to 8,000 — we had more than doubled our outreach.”

To date, that number has again almost doubled and continues to climb: Dignity Matters currently supports 15,000 women and girls across Massachusetts each month. Menstrual supplies, bras, and underwear are distributed to 175 partner organizations serving the homeless and low-income families by a team of approximately 100 committed volunteers working in regular shifts. “We really couldn’t do it without them,” said Belger.

Belger’s eldest daughter, Brigid Belger ’22, followed her mother’s footsteps to Fairfield and pursued a bachelor’s in social work at the Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies. During class one day, the topic turned to period poverty, and Brigid shared about her mother’s work with Dignity Matters. Classmate and fellow social work major Chloe Riven ’21 listened intently.

A year later, Riven, who is an avid runner, reached out to the Belgers with an idea to raise funds and awareness for the organization. “She told me that she’s always wanted to run the Boston Marathon,” said Maureen, “and that doing so on behalf of something she’s passionate about would be a dream come true.”

And that is how a conversation in class led Riven to the 126th Boston Marathon start line in Hopkinton — the Belgers’ hometown — with her fellow alumnae cheering for her along the route. After the race, Riven took to her fundraising webpage to thank her supporters for helping her raise more than $5,000 for Dignity Matters.

Maureen Belger was also grateful that day, “for Fairfield’s Jesuit focus on the whole person and on service to others, which continues to influence us for life.”

Other Articles in the Spring 2024 Issue

Letter from the President

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Confident, Courageous, Competitive

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The Storm on the Horizon

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Taking Care

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Indie Press Success

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To Elevate the Discourse

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Anif McDonald ’16

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Women of the 50th Reunion Committee

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