Dana Marlowe says she “accidentally” founded her nonprofit in 2015. “I had lost a lot of weight and my bras weren’t doing their job any longer,” she explains. From the changing room at Soma where she was getting sized for new bras, Marlowe lamented at their exorbitant cost. She wondered if she could donate a few of her gently used bras to other women who might need them. A sales associate then casually told her four words that sparked the impetus of Support the Girls: “Homeless women need bras.”
Amped with this new knowledge, she found a shelter in the Washington, D.C. area where she lives and gave them a call. “As soon as you can get them here, we need your bras,” was their exuberant response.
She asked them what else they might need. The answer surprised her. “They also needed maxi pads and tampons,” says Marlowe. “I was embarrassed to not know that. What it must be like to be living in a shelter and have your period and you don’t have those products.”
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She knew she couldn’t be the only person who didn’t know this, or who wanted to help, or who had a stockpile of bras that they weren’t wearing anymore. Marlowe made a simple Facebook post. People responded in droves, not just with social media likes, but with actual donations from every state and, eventually, from a dozen countries.
“My friend said she had 20 bras and she’d wash them and bring them over.” From there, it snowballed. She amassed over 1,000 bras and more than 7,000 menstrual products within three months. She set up a dedicated Facebook page to handle the response. Support the Girls was born.
Her first drop was in October 2015 at Thrive DC, which provides a wide range of services to more than 2,000 men, women and children a year who are homeless or face housing or food insecurity. The women surrounded Marlowe before she even finished unpacking the donations from her car.
“The smiles on their faces and the stories I was hearing were amazing. I started learning that there are a lot of women who are homeless because of domestic violence. This was all new for me.” Marlowe says she realized this couldn’t just be a “one and done” donation. Since that first drop, Support the Girls has donated approximately 150,000 bras and 850,000 menstrual products through 48 national and global affiliates. Of those, 223 have been organizations focused on helping victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking.
So Much More Than Underwear
The nonprofit’s name is a double entendre—not only do well-fitting bras help prevent back and breast pain, as well as improve posture, which can have its own benefits like reducing headaches and fatigue, a good bra also does wonders for one’s self-esteem. Marlowe knows.
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“A bra is dignity,” she says. “It makes you feel like you want to stand up straighter. You feel good about how your clothes lay.”
One woman she met asked her if Marlowe could find her a lacy, red bra. Her reasoning: She’d seen them on advertisements and she wanted to feel how the models looked—desirable, and like they had worth. “It can make me feel dignified,” she told Marlowe.
“I said, ‘That’s amazing.’ We found her a red lacy bra.”
Another woman named Crystal asked Marlowe for a sports bra. She had a much different set of reasons. She was homeless and said a sports bra doubles as a purse. She could keep her photos, ID and money in t.
The married mom of two, who also runs Accessibility Partners, a national IT consulting firm that helps companies make technology accessible to people with disabilities, isn’t slowing down on the bra and maxi pad-collecting anytime soon. She’s simply passing the baton of donation collecting to nonprofits around the country and the globe—from Support the Girls – Alberta to Support the Girls – New Zealand. Though, you can also just mail your bras directly to Marlowe herself. After all, as she told The Washington Post, “I think I’ve kind of tapped out all the boobs in my social network.”
Is Your Shelter In Need of Bras?
Currently, Marlowe says shelters that are in need of bras for their participants can “just reach out to us and indicate how many women or girls they serve annually, and their location. If we have an affiliate nearby them we put them in touch.” Shelter directors can email Marlowe at info@iSupportTheGirls.org. Right now, there are 42 affiliates across the country.
Want to Give Away Your Bras?
To donate, bras or feminine hygiene products can be dropped at any of the affiliate sites around the country—email Marlowe at info@iSupportTheGirls.org to find the site closest to you—or can be mailed directly to Marlowe at Support the Girls, Attn: Dana Marlowe, P.O. Box 2736, Wheaton, Maryland 20915.
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