Getting your period is never fun — good underwear gets ruined, you're cramping for days, and you find yourself out and about without an extra tampon in your purse. For homeless women, though, that time of the month comes with added stress of not having access to pads and tampons. Donation drives for the homeless typically focus on clothing and food, but specialty items like feminine products and bras are often overlooked. Distributing Dignity, a nonprofit based out of New Jersey, is trying to restore homeless women's confidence by providing them with pads, tampons, and bras — items that are frankly scarce on the streets.
Distributing Dignity's co-founders, Joanie Balderstone and Rebecca McIntire, first realized the need for these items while working with a homeless day center in Camden, New Jersey, back in 2009. When a woman at the center said she didn't have a bra to wear with a donated business suit, Balderstone and McIntire's group then asked what else the women needed. Tampons and pads were high up on the list.
As you can imagine, going without these basic necessities can strip homeless women of their dignity, so Balderstone and McIntire started holding "Mardi Bra" parties to collect donations. The initiative eventually spiraled into a full-fledged nonprofit.
Distributing Dignity now works with homeless shelters and crisis centers in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida, and California, stocking them with feminine products and bras to hand out to homeless women they serve. "A lot of these shelters don’t
even have a line item in their budget for these items," Balderstone tells Bustle. "Workers are running out to CVS to
buy some with their own money so they have some in their drawer to give out."
Balderstone and McIntire don't work directly with homeless women, but they constantly get feedback from their partner organizations about how much the donations mean to women in need. According to the pair, one shelter that received bras from Distributing Dignity told them that one woman put on a donated Victoria's Secret bra and said, "I never thought I deserved to wear something so pretty."
The need for pads, tampons, and bras affects displaced women of all ages. "When young people are kicked out of
their homes, it's not like their parents say, 'Pack up your things and don’t
forget your feminine products. Don’t forget your deodorant. Don’t forget your bras,' Alex Roque, director of development at the Ali Forney Center, an LGBTQ homeless youth organization, tells Bustle. "They have no time to pack up the
basic things they might need."
People without a home have a lot to worry about every day — where to find a bed for the night, how to get food, how to stay safe — and providing them with feminine products and a good bra eliminates one of those worries. "Being able to offer these products is one step closer to feeling less homeless," Roque says.
There are multiple ways to help Distributing Dignity supply homeless women for their periods, the most obvious being to donate money. The nonprofit uses monetary donations to buy pads, tampons, and bras as they're needed. If you prefer to know exactly what your money is buying, the group has an Amazon wish list that allows donors to buy specific bras and feminine products, which are then sent to Distributing Dignity to distribute.
For a more hands-on approach, you can host a party for your friends and family, community group, business, or university and have guests bring donations of new bras (with tags) and feminine products. If you don't live in New Jersey or the other participating states, don't worry. Distributing Dignity will work with you to find a local organization for your collections, so you, too, can throw your own "Mardi Bra," "Cups for a Cause," or "Bra-B-Que" party.
Providing homeless women with bras, tampons, and pads not only makes their lives a lot easier, it helps them feel just as secure as other women. Balderstone tells Bustle: "It's giving these women the message that they’re worth it."