Dana Marlowe, Founder and Executive Director of I Support the Girls
What is the mission of your organization?
Through an international network of Affiliates, I Support the Girls collects and distributes essential items, including bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products, allowing women experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress to stand tall with dignity.
Why did you decide to start/support your organization?
I lost a ton of weight in 2015, and my bras no longer fit well. Standing in a changing room with my newly sized garments, I gaped at the price tags: How do women afford these? A sales associate shared four words that changed the trajectory of my life: Homeless women need bras. When I heard and learned what the ramifications were of a woman not being able to afford a bra or menstrual products, I couldn’t abandon a request to support a marginalized population in need.
How would you connect your organization to a Jewish text, holiday, value or experience?
If you’ve read Anita Diamant’s book, The Red Tent, she constructed a beautiful story about biblical women who would visit a red tent, separate from the men, after their periods and childbirth. While the women in her story would find the separation at points relaxing, this stuck with me: the sense of separation. My work with I Support the Girls is to do anything but encourage the notion of separate. I am vowing to make those subjective and societal red tents a notion of the past, and normalize periods in our conversations and lifestyle.
Who or what has inspired you in the work that you are doing?
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is my advocacy inspiration. She is a passionate speaker and prolific author for reproductive liberties and women’s rights. Her book, Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, has strengthened my resolve about menstrual equity and made me a stronger feminist.
What’s a story about your organization that is meaningful to you?
Early on with ISTG, I met Crystal, an artist who lives on the streets of D.C. When I met her, she had one bra and it was eight years old. That meant back pain and the daily embarrassment of a sagging, ill-fitting bra. She requested a red lacy bra, and we found a donation in her size. Her reasoning stuck with me: Crystal had seen them on advertisements, and she wanted to feel how the models looked—desirable, and like they had worth. “It made me feel dignified.”
What has surprised you about working with your organization?
More people than you would believe live paycheck-to-paycheck. They’re at a risk of homelessness due to another furlough, medical expense, car repair, or more. Often, menstrual products are just not in the budget, so women have to make do. It’s not just something people can stock up on, and I’ve been stunned at the ways in which women are forced to accommodate their periods, especially young girls in schools that don’t have products in a nurses’ office.
What's the best part of your job and why?
Definitely the smiles on women’s faces when we meet face-to-face. I love it when we have fitting days, where women get sized and get a bunch of new bras. The sheer sense of relief from these women when they tell me what these properly-fitting bras mean to them, and how they won’t have to use wadded up cardboard in lieu of Maxipads. I know I can’t fix everything, but just taking that stress away and making these women feel accommodated is what keeps me going.
What are some non-monetary ways for others to get involved in your organization or cause?
We always accept donations of gently used bras or even open boxes of sealed hygiene products. We are also looking for advocates. Be vocal about the need for menstrual products in prisons, nurse’s offices, hospitals, and more. We have volunteers who help us with packing parties and help distributing, so please reach out to us for a few hours of fun packing and sorting. The future of I Support the Girls depends on advocates sharing our mission and personal striving to right the wrongs of a society that unfairly discriminates against a woman’s basic health function.
To learn more about I Support the Girls visit www.isupportthegirls.org.