Four words sparked the birth of an organization, helping girls and women nationwide: Homeless women need bras. When Washington, D.C., resident Dana Marlowe was being fitted for a new bra, she asked the woman fitting her what she should do with her old bras—inspiration struck. Marlowe made a call to a local shelter, and made a Facebook post about the need for donations. In a matter of two weeks, more than 7,000 products had been donated by friends, who responded to her post.
That was the beginning of I Support the Girls, a nonprofit organization that provides basic necessities to homeless women and girls—and goes a long way in restoring their dignity. Four million bras and menstrual hygiene products have been donated through the organization and its 59 affiliates (a figure that can change weekly) across the United States and globally.
Maple Grove resident Jessica Van Kirk is the affiliate leader of I Support the Girls’ Twin Cities Metro location. She focuses on getting donations to area domestic abuse shelters, homeless shelters and transitional housing, as well as local school districts. “No one should have to choose between a meal and a box of pads or tampons,” Van Kirk says. “Nor should a child have to miss school because they have no way to manage their periods.”
Locals agree. Businesses, community organizations, churches and even large corporations have conducted drives for the organization. To date, more than 46,000 menstrual products have been distributed, and more than 2,500 bras and underwear have been donated in the area. (Nationally, in the first half of 2019, one million items were donated via nation-wide affiliates.)
While Facebook is Van Kirk’s primary means of promoting I Support the Girls, she also makes sure to highlight the organization when she meets new people or in casual conversation. “You'd be amazed at how many people would never think to donate their gently used or new bras or new menstruation products,” she says. The need is great, and donations sometimes come from unexpected places. Newly widowed men and adult children sometimes donate the bras of their deceased wives or mothers.
Donations are processed before being sent to shelters. Van Kirk washes and examines all used bras, weeding out those that are in disrepair. She then sorts the bras, counts the menstruation products, packs them up and drives them to their final destination. As the only affiliate leader in the Twin Cities, Van Kirk has recruited friends and even her kids to help sort and count products. “My kids are my favorite donation distribution partners,” she says.
Van Kirk rarely interacts with the women who receive donations, because they are sometimes in hiding from an abusive partner or parents, or they have another situation warranting secrecy. The people she physically hands products to appreciate receiving the personal items. “I do get notes from time to time that explain how much of an impact the donations have,” she says.
Of all the items Van Kirk collects, new bras in sizes DD and larger and menstruation products are most needed. New bras can be very costly for larger sizes, so women often go years or even decades without getting a new bra. Many organizations only accept new bras, although she has been able to convince a few shelters to take used bras that are in great condition. “Bras are expensive, and, if you've left an abusive home with only the clothes on your back or are homeless and trying to get a job, having the proper undergarments is so important. [The] same goes for menstruation products,” Van Kirk says.
Donations can be dropped off at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, 7180 Hemlock Lane N., Maple Grove (763.425.6505), or Van Kirk is able to pick up items in some circumstances. (Donations and shipments can be received at her Maple Grove home.)