Tampons. Pads. Bras.
These are necessary items that most women take for granted (and often despise) every day. However, these items are desperately needed by homeless women and women in need across the country. Joanie Balderstone and her partner, Rebecca McIntire, want to make sure that all women have access to these products.
While working on a committee for a local homeless day shelter, one woman admitted to Joanie that the items she really needed were tampons, pads and bras.
This surprised Joanie and Rebecca: “As a two-woman household, we never thought to donate pads and tampons,” Joanie said. “I’m just as guilty as everyone else for not thinking of it.”
Why is it that no one seems to think of this seemingly obvious need? Perhaps it’s because even today, menstruation is seen as a taboo topic that many people aren't comfortable talking about.
Luckily, “someone was brave and honest and admitted that she needed them,” Joanie said.
Joanie and Rebecca started out addressing this need by donating as a private household and held a ‘Mardi Bra’ party every year to raise donations with family and friends. In 2012, Joanie lost her mother and emotionally knew that she wouldn’t be able to host a party that year, but she didn’t want to not give women what they needed.
So, she and Rebecca decided to start a social media campaign on Facebook. A family friend told her, “You should do this. This is what you’re supposed to do.”
So she did.
Joanie and Rebecca spent a year researching how to run their own non-profit and Distributing Dignity was born. Just from their first ‘Mardi Bra’ party, they were able to donate 80 bras and thousands of tampons and pads to shelters.
Distributing Dignity works through social workers at various shelters and homes so Joanie and Rebecca rarely interact with the actual women who receive their donations: “We certainly don’t expect to get thanks. We do it because we know it’s the right thing to do,” Joanie said.
They do hear stories from social workers who say that these donations make their jobs that much better because they have something they can physically give to the women they see.
One women reacted by stating that, “they didn’t know they were worthy enough to wear bras....they thought bras were for rich people only.”
A Thank You letter they received stated that Distributing Dignity was “providing comfort and hope.”
What started as simply giving women what they needed turned into something far greater.
“Initially we were really focused on the need and what we’ve come to appreciate is the dignity,” Rebecca said. “It’s a supportive message. It sends the message that they’re worth it and that we’re all worth dignity. It’s humanity. It’s beautiful.”
By working with people from all over the country from college friends to strangers, the couple has been overwhelmed by the generosity and response.
“What I’ve learned through this process is that we’re all women in need. We just need different things,” Joanie said. Joanie needed something to help her heal after her mother’s death. What she got in return was a ripple effect that was bigger than she expected.
If you would like to help Distributing Dignity, you may send monetary donations through their website or make donations of bras and feminine products at their drop off locations.