A New Haven organizer is flipping the concept of recycling — with bras.
That organizer is Sharon Rosenblatt, Connecticut affiliate head for a national organization called Support The Girls. Thursday she and Support The Girls founder Dana Marlowe arrived at New Reach on East Street with a summer gift for the organization: a trunk packed with 400 bras, along with 450 boxes of maxi pads, panty liners and tampons.
Marlowe lives and works out of Washington, D.C.; she is in town for a visit.
Support The Girls — yes, the name is a double entendre — was founded in 2015, when Marlowe, who was then a co-worker of Rosenblatt’s, was faced with a drawer full of bras that didn’t fit anymore. She had started running and lost weight, so her bras were loose and awkward on her frame. A self-professed “fashion train wreck,” she had gone to the women’s lingerie store Soma for a bra fitting. As she described the lightly used intimates languishing at home, a salesperson cut in: Was Marlowe aware that homeless women were often in need of bras?
Marlowe hadn’t thought about it. She and her husband had donated clothes several times before, but outreach centers and donation drops often exclude underwear and bras from the list of items they’re looking for. She looked up homeless shelters close to where she lived in Maryland and called a few. One provider said immediately that he’d take her bras; the women who stayed at his homeless shelter were in great need of them.
She asked him what else he was in need of. “Maxi pads and tampons,” he replied, without missing a beat.
“You know when you learn a new word, and then you just keep thinking about it and thinking about it?” Marlowe said. “It was like that.”
She put out a call on Facebook for bras and menstrual supplies, expecting 10 responses. She got hundreds, from colleagues, friends, and friends of friends who had underwire bras, nursing bras, maternity bras, training bras, and sports bras, and were willing to throw in a few boxes of tampons or sanitary items. At the end of a few weeks, she had 1,000 bras and 7,000 pads and tampons. So she donated them, and kept going.
The more bras and hygiene supplies she collected, the more she learned about the women who needed them (and the more national companies pitched in, with Spotify, Marriott and others holding bra drives).
New bras are expensive; one shelter provider told her that women who cannot afford them use belts to hold up their breasts, tightening the belts just beneath them. Another explained that sports bras double as purses, with women placing their licenses, credit or debit cards, phones, and other valuables inside them. A third outreach provider recalled meeting women who had worn the same single bra for seven or eight years.
Meanwhile, Marlowe was learning that the same women often struggle to afford pads and tampons each month. She’s familiar with the humiliation of getting your period without a tampon or pad on hand, which can lead to bleeding through one’s clothes. She also recognized the relative privilege of being able to ask a friend for a tampon, run out to buy a new box, or even use a menstrual cup with easy access to running water and clean, readily accessible restrooms.
“The funny thing about being a woman at any age is that it doesn’t matter where you come from and where you’re going,” she said. “Because a period is a period. Period.”
A year and a half later, the impulse to help — now officially translated to an incorporated nonprofit — has meant collecting 135,000 bras and 850,000 menstrual products, and garnering 48 national and international affiliates. Like Rosenblatt, a disability and women’s rights advocate who works at The Grove and found New Reach by Googling “homeless shelters near me.” After becoming a member of Support The Girls early in its existence, Rosenblatt began asking for sports bra donations at races she was running in, and in social media shout outs. She received hundreds.
Already, she has made donations to Columbus House, Citywide Youth Coalition, and anti-trafficking organization Love146. This carload is her biggest drop yet, she said.
From New Reach, the bras, pads and tampons will find homes at the organization’s three New Haven shelters — Life Haven in Fair Haven, and Care Ways and Martha’s Place in the Hill, off Howard Avenue. They’ll also go to New Reach shelters in Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk, Hamden and Danbury. A representative will be gathering information about the bra sizes women need, and then distribute them accordingly.
“This is just so wonderful,” said Mary Grande, director of community engagement at New Reach.
Rosenblatt grinned. “I’ve got sisters around the country now,” she said.
To donate to the Support The Girls locally, email info@iSupportTheGirls.org or send a message to Support The Girls - Connecticut on Facebook. New Reach is also taking direct donations: email email@example.com for more information on how to do that.