If you are a woman and your life has gone into a bad place, the last thing on the minds of people who may help you is your specific female needs. Because it is not a comfortable topic for many and can be a culture taboo topic for others, the need for personal care products and items such as bras for women who are homeless or in crisis are not likely to come up as part of basic plans to give help. That is where Distributing Dignity steps in to fill a huge ‘nameless’ need for women.
Distributing Dignity gives feminine hygiene products and new bras to organizations which support women in need. Partners with Distributing Dignity include Robin’s Nest Inc., Center for Family Services, Libertae, Caring Hearts Ministry, Women Against Abuse, Camden County Women’s Center, Cathedral Kitchen, The Retreat Domestic Violence Services, SCO Family Services and more. These partners help women and their children with family-oriented services and places women can go for food and lodging if they need it. Some offer addiction services, counselling, help to leave an abusive situation, meals, help to find and keep jobs, crisis hotlines etc. Thanks to Distributing Dignity women can now receive the help they need which is specific to women and their bodies.
At a shelter or when leaving an abusive situation, a woman may not have time to pack. This means, should she arrive with only the clothing on her back at some point she will need things such as feminine hygiene products and a new bra (after all they are worn daily for months) so that the other can be washed and hung to dry (which can take longer than overnight). The public donates clothing and other things to the homeless shelters and other organizations, but most donations are meant to be ‘generic’ in that they could be used for either gender or for multiple people who come and go. There are things which a woman will need that she will not otherwise have access to when she is suddenly on her own because most women who end up in shelters and those looking for jobs and recovering from addictions won’t have their own money to buy the products which they will need at certain parts of the month.
Restrictions in homeless shelters can limit the hours patrons are allowed to come and go, and at what hours men and women can use the restroom. A second problem is that many of the facilities do not want people to bring in personal items because there is no place to store them. There is the risk of theft with anyone who you try to take into a homeless shelter. You may have the hygiene gear but no access to use it during certain hours due to washroom restrictions. This isn’t something you can just change in view of the other ‘neighbours’ at the shelter, of course.
Started in 2009 as a family project, Distributing Dignity grew over the years and after the passing of the founder’s mother in 2012 became an official organization to help women. It was started by Joanie Balderstone and her partner, Rebecca McIntire. Some of their first donations were gently used women’s business suits—which are also a necessity for women who do not have their own clothing and need to look presentable for job interviews. In their own words:
“In 2009, we were providing assistance to a homeless day center in Camden, NJ by donating gently used business clothes for job interviews. A woman at the day center thanked our group for the clothes and then told us she didn’t have a decent bra to wear underneath them. She wasn’t the only one. So we asked what else they needed. The answer? Pads and tampons. As women, we couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to have an inadequate bra or none at all. Moreover, we couldn’t comprehend rationing out monthly supplies or worse…going without them. Compelled by this newly discovered need, we organized our first “Mardi Bra” party that was held on February 13, 2010. We invited all the women we knew and each guest brought a new bra or a package of pads/tampons. Many women brought bags full of donations. It was a party with a purpose.”
Reaction to the efforts has been extremely positive. A case worker for the Camden County Women’s Center was quoted in Huffington Post as saying that having a selection of shapes and sizes of feminine hygeine helped give the women a little boost—just the power to be able to choose for themselves.
If you would like to help, there are drop off locations available for Distributing Dignity if you are in New Jersey. Be a “cotton sponsor” for just $25 or pick your own amount to donate. Host your own Mardi-Bra party. You can also shop their wishlist on Amazon or go to the shopping area of the Distributing Dignity website. Locally, you can find many women’s charities in the phone book, just pick one that has meaning for you and then give them a call to find out if they accept donations of gently used business clothing, bras, and unopened feminine hygiene products. You don’t have to be a super hero to save the world—just do something good in your own part of it.