Food, water, shelter, safety, warmth. These are just a few of the weighty concerns that homeless people have daily. But imagine being a woman or girl living on the street or in a shelter and, on top of all else, having to ration out or go without pads and tampons every month. It’s something that Joanie Balderstone and Rebecca McIntire could not comprehend after learning how prevalent the problem is. So they set out to do something to enhance the dignity of these women in need.

“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.” Joanie added, “She wasn’t the only one. So we asked what else they needed. The answer? Pads and tampons.”

“So we asked what else they needed. The answer? Pads and tampons.”

It seems like such an obvious need, but unless you’re familiar with the shelter system, and what shelters do/don’t provide, these types of female-specific essentials might not be top of mind. But Joanie and Rebecca got a fast and eye-opening education from the women they met.

While most shelters offer beds and meals, only some also give out hygiene related items to residents (shampoo, toothbrushes, soap), and showers can be scarce too. Sadly, bras, pads, tampons, and panty liners are even harder to come by, so women in shelters often have to make do or go without. GO WITHOUT. Just think about that for a second. Think about the mental and emotional toll, not to mention the physical discomfort. It’s devastating.

This newly discovered reality moved Joanie and Rebecca into action, and on February 13, 2010 they hosted their very first Mardi Bra party. “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.” In one night, they collected 80 new bras, along with thousands of pads and tampons, which they brought back to the women at that shelter in Camden.

Distributing Dignity_donations2

The ladies held their second Mardi Bra in 2011, and broadened their outreach to include women who had aged out of the foster care system and families in South Jersey impacted by HIV/AIDS. Joanie says, “Neither group had ever received donations of these specific supplies before yet both expressed just how much they were needed.”

Following the January 2012 loss of Joanie’s mother, a proud supporter of her daughter and daughter-in-law’s selfless mission, they weren’t able to host their 3rd annual party. So they invoked the power of social media. “Knowing my mother wouldn’t want these women to go without, I put the word out on Facebook. Checks and packages began arriving in the mail.”

With just one simple post, Joanie and Rebecca were struck by a tidal wave of generosity, women wanting to help other women, especially with something so essential. It strengthened their commitment to contributing to the dignity of women in need, and led to the official founding of their all volunteer run, non-profit Distributing Dignity.

Distributing Dignity_bras

Donated bras, packaged and ready for distribution.

Headquartered in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, today the organization’s distribution channels have expanded even further to include other non-profits in the South Jersey and greater Philadelphia areas that support women in and aging out of foster care, women seeking refuge from domestic violence or abuse, homeless veterans, teens and others, women struggling with life altering illness, and those women displaced by disaster. Their goal is for Distributing Dignity to become a national organization serving women across the United States.

Lifting up women in need. What an inspired mission. What a powerful cause. Brava Joanie and Rebecca!

If you’re interesting in donating unopened packages of pads and tampons, and/or new bras (with the tags still attached) to Distributing Dignity or getting involved in other ways here’s how.