After Dana Marlowe lost a considerable amount of weight, her bras didn’t fit anymore, so she just left them in the drawer.
Then Mrs. Marlowe visited a Soma lingerie store and learned what she could do with them: A sales clerk said she could donate them to homeless shelters.
What started as a Facebook post asking friends to donate bras, tampons and pads has turned into an international organization providing these feminine products to homeless women.
Support The Girls launched in July 2015, and it all started in Mrs. Marlowe’s home in Silver Spring, Maryland. The nonprofit organization now has chapters in Australia, Canada and cities across the U.S.
During the final eight weeks of last year, more than 10,000 items were donated to homeless shelters. The group’s goal for 2016 is to donate more than 1 million items.
“There’s a huge conversation out there about menstrual products and low-income homeless girls. We’re not talking about Africa, we’re talking about here in the U.S. and D.C.,” says Mrs. Marlowe, 40. “I’ve met women who’ve been using the same bra for eight years, or use a belt to cover up.”
Bras, tampons and pads are sent to Mrs. Marlowe’s P.O. Box address, and she ships them to D.C.-area shelters. But the shipping costs add up, and she’s had to be frugal with her finances.
Mrs. Marlowe hopes her Crowdrise fundraiser goal of $30,000 will be reached by the end of the year. Funds will go toward developing local chapters and hiring organization executives.
A mother of two boys, Mrs. Marlowe enjoys running Support The Girls, as well as being the CEO/founder of Accessibility Partners, a consulting and services firm that helps organizations implement information technology solutions for people with disabilities.
She believes starting the conversation about menstruation with boys at a young age will break the taboo.
“They talk about this like they talk about matchbox cars and Pokemon,” she says.
Once, her 7-year-old son told her about a conversation with his friend, who said his mom had maxi pads she could donate to Mrs. Marlowe. His sister had a training bra also to give.
“I don’t go around talking about it all the time, but it shouldn’t be taboo,” Mrs. Marlowe says. “This isn’t a girl problem, and it isn’t a boy problem. It’s a people conversation.”
Women are a growing group in the homeless population. Their struggles differ from those of homeless men, as they have to make major decisions between buying a hot meal or a box of tampons.
“These products provide dignity, in such a way that it makes people feel better about themselves,” Mrs. Marlowe says. “To provide that literal and figurative support in a bra can go a long way.”