This article originally appeared on the Daily Saint.
When Dana Marlowe of Silver Springs, Md., lost 35 pounds last year, she found herself in need of new, properly fitting clothing — especially bras. While purging her old clothes, she called Thrive D.C., a local nonprofit that provides a range of services to homeless people in the Washington, D.C., area, to ask whether it accepted gently used bras as donations.
The staff told her not only that it was OK but that bras and feminine hygiene products are among the least donated yet most requested items for women. Marlowe, who is the president of IT consulting firm Accessibility Partners, told her friends, and within a few weeks her garage was filled top to bottom with bras, pads and tampons from those in the community who’d heard about her initiative.
But things didn’t stop there. Word spread, and soon churches, synagogues, yoga studios and schools were hosting drives and drop-off locations for the products. Marlowe cheekily named her organization Support the Girls: “Funny the things you think of at two in the morning.” Donations started coming in from every state and overseas, from Israel to Korea to France. In just a few months, Marlowe’s group had collected more than 20,000 items.
“I had never thought to give bras, because it feels like such an intimate thing,” Marlowe told Yahoo News. “When I realized there was such a need, I knew I couldn’t just stop with my own donations.
“Basic feminine care is a right,” she continued. “These are items that are essential to being a woman, and in this case they’re able to bring dignity and a little bit of comfort to people who are already in incredibly vulnerable positions.”
Many homeless women don’t own a bra before arriving at Thrive, and they often struggle to find consistent access to feminine hygiene products, along with a safe, secure place to properly change them, said Greg Rockwell, community relations coordinator at Thrive D.C.
“There’s a certain sense of indignity that develops when a person loses the ability to maintain basic hygiene, and that feeling is intensely amplified for menstruating women,” said Los Angeles-based sexuality educator Anne Hodder. It’s nearly impossible for women to manage their periods when regular access to bathrooms, let alone tampons or pads, is scarce, she added.
“This leaves women on their own to get crafty and figure out how to ‘catch’ their flow, often using and reusing wads of napkins or toilet paper stashed from public restrooms, which are neither reliable nor sanitary and merely perpetuate the sense of dirtiness” that is often implied by society about menstruation, said Hodder.
To have not only access to these items but options is a very empowering thing, said Rockwell.
Support the Girls offers tampons and maxi pads for light to heavy flows. There are bras in every size, color, and patterns — sports bras, nursing bras, training bras and strapless bras are all in the mix. “Different women want different things,” said Marlowe. Some women want something practical and no-frills. Others prefer something pretty and girly under a large winter coat — something just for themselves, she said.
In November, Thrive D.C. even held “A Perfect Fit Day,” in which clients were fitted for bras and underwear by professionals and were able to walk away with the new undergarments free of charge. “The transformation was remarkable,” said Rockwell.
Because Support the Girls has grown so rapidly, and because she gets donations from all over the country, Marlowe has reached out to other shelters throughout the U.S. to partner and offer the ever-growing number of donated items. Women and families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, making up 34 percent of the total homeless population in the U.S., according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Knowing how much of a need there is out there, Marlowe says she doesn’t plan on stopping now.
“I’m going to keep it up,” she said. “We have momentum now, so if I can help make someone’s life easier, even in a small way, I want to do that.”