Supporting the Girls
If you are a woman experiencing homelessness in Escambia County—or in any community—it’s likely you’ll be able to find a hot meal quicker than a tampon.
That’s where I Support the Girls comes in. The Maryland-based nonprofit has more than 50 affiliates around the world, including a local chapter serving the Pensacola area, that host drives to collect menstrual products, bras and underwear for women in need.
Audrey Moore started the Gulf Coast chapter last July and has since collected 78,000 individual items to be donated to organizations in Alabama and Florida, including Planned Parenthood, PACE Center for Girls, schools, shelters and even UWF Argo Pantry.
“The main reason I started the chapter was because I felt no one should have to choose between a hot meal and a box of pads,” said Moore. “People tend not to think about it. We donate suits and blazers for women at local churches, but we don’t think about bras and underwear.”
There are more than 219,000 women experiencing homelessness in the United States, and they make up 39% of the U.S. homeless population. However, shelters are not required to distribute menstrual products. And these products can be expensive, especially in states that still tax them. Florida was one of the states to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax” in 2017.
Lack of access to menstrual products can be a public health issue for any woman and can lead to issues such as urinary tract infections, yeast infections and vulvar contact dermatitis, according to a 2017 article from the Rhode Island Medical Journal.
“Recently, a homeless patient told me that she also would wrap toilet paper around her underwear during her menses,” the author wrote. “She spoke about the expense of tampons and sanitary pads. Her shelter provided only two pads per cycle, whereas the average woman uses approximately 20. Her inadequate options were toilet paper, reused cloths or ruining her only pair of underpants.”
Along with menstrual products, I Support the Girls also collects gently-used and new bras and new underwear to provide another level of care. The organization got its start in bras when the founder, Dana Marlowe, was getting fitted for a new bra at a SOMA boutique. She asked the saleswoman what she should do with her bras that no longer fit, to which the saleswoman replied, “Homeless women need bras.” In July 2015, Marlowe posted on her Facebook page asking friends to donate their gently-used bras, along with unopened boxes of menstrual products, which she donated to a local shelter.
Part of the mission to provide these items is about eliminating the stigma but also providing individuals with some self-care. Moore said she likes getting donations from businesses like Third Love, where the bras are a bit of a luxury. Everyone likes to wear something pretty every now and then, said Moore.
“It’s also nice to be able to provide women with a quality bra that will last since it could be the only one they have,” she added.
Moore points out, too, that these items are donated to serve all menstruating individuals.
“It can be nerve-wracking for a transgender individual to get menstrual items or buy their first bra,” she said.
While there is a lack of access, it’s not for lack of care. It’s simply about education, Moore said.
“People have been so quick to be generous,” she said. “And I’ve had so much support from people in the community. From businesses like Dolce and Gelato to Junior League of Pensacola … this wouldn’t be what it is.”
On Thursday, Feb. 13, Dolce and Gelato will host the first-ever I Support the Girls Galentine’s Day Party, with a breakfast for dinner theme that Leslie Knope would be proud of, complete with Waffle House waffles. Bring a bra, or a sealed package of tampons or pads, or even a suggested $10 cash donation for entry. Items collected will be donated to the Escambia Regional Juvenile Detention Center.
Jails and detention centers are another space where women and girls can be vulnerable.
“The products provided are basically panty liners, which aren’t always effective,” said Moore. “One of the main problems is that you can only get so many (pads) a month, and it’s not really regulated.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, incarcerated individuals are sometimes bargaining with staff for menstrual products. This happened at the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama, where certain correctional officers would withhold menstrual products for sexual acts.
So, if you didn’t think a pad or tampon could make a big impact, you were mistaken. Since the original I Support the Girls was founded, more than five million bras and menstrual products have been collected and distributed. And that number continues to grow.
“Our main mission is providing dignity,” said Moore. “No one should have to go to work or go to school and worry about leaking through their clothes. We provide access to that dignity.”
GALENTINE’S DAY PARTY
WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13
WHERE: Dolce and Gelato, 2050 N. 12th Ave.
COST: Donation of new or gently-used bra, sealed package of pads or tampons, or suggested $10 donation.
How to Support the Girls
If you are unable to attend the Galentine’s event, you can donate online at isupportthegirls.org or send gently-used and new bras and menstrual products to P.O. Box 1781, Pensacola, FL 32591 (Attn: Audrey Moore). You can also donate in person at these local businesses:
416 E. Belmont St.
Old City Market Inc.
140 S. Jefferson St.
Dolce and Gelato
2050 N. 12th Ave.
506 W. Belmont St.
25 E. Wright St.
2000 N. 12th Ave.
Santa Rosa County
The Bridge Bar and Sunset Lounge
33 Gulf Breeze Parkway
OASIS Florida (Fort Walton)
1825 Hurlburt Road
SoPaw (Miramar Beach)
11275 Emerald Coast Parkway W #5
Shabby to Chic Dog Grooming & Boutique (Santa Rosa Beach)
2282 W. County Highway 30A, Ste. 5