August 29, 2023

I Support the Girls: Making Poverty a Priority, Period

Author National Philanthropic Trust

Menstruation is something that impacts half of the worldwide population for a significant part of their lives, but the stigma and shame that surrounds something so normal is all-too familiar for those who experience having a period. It’s even more difficult for the individuals who face the challenges that result from period poverty.

Period poverty is defined by the Journal of Public Health Reports as “a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management, and education.” It’s a public health crisis that impacts millions around the world, “causing physical, mental and emotional challenges,” and as their 2022 report points out, “the stigma that shrouds periods further prevents individuals from talking about it.”

Someone who is talking about it, however, is Dana Marlowe. Marlowe is the founder of I Support the Girls, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes essential items, including menstrual hygiene products, bras and underwear to those “experiencing homelessness, impoverishment or distress.”

“When something is not talked about comfortably, it’s not normalized and if it’s not normalized, action won’t be taken around it,” says Marlowe, who got the idea for I Support the Girls in 2015 after a bra-shopping trip opened her eyes to the lack of access so many women face when it comes to something so essential.

She started a collection drive, and what started as a humble effort on Facebook eventually amassed over 1,000 bras and 7,000 menstrual products in the Washington, D.C. region alone. The story caught the attention of The Washington Post and soon enough people around the country wanted to take part in the initiative.

Since establishing the nonprofit in 2016, I Support the Girls–which is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland–has opened affiliate chapters throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Germany and Philippines. Collectively these affiliates (which are run by team leaders and volunteers), in collaboration with major manufacturers, have distributed over 21 million new menstrual products, bras, underwear, toiletries, makeup, hand sanitizers, wipes, slippers, pajamas and more.

For the people that now have access to these items, it can mean comfort, care and most importantly, dignity. “Dignity means a lot to different people,” Marlowe says. That can be anything from “a new bra that actually fits and supports them, which can make them feel more confident,” to using a real tampon rather than “a makeshift one,” to not having to decide “if they want to buy a hot meal or a package of maxi pads.”

Providing those items–which include customized care kits for domestic violence survivors, menopausal individuals and transgender and nonbinary individuals–has been possible, in part, thanks to the generosity of donors. “We’re always grateful for the support from donors, because [this cause] is so often overlooked,” she says.

The organization reports that they receive hundreds of grants from donor-advised funds (DAFs) annually, with DAF giving remaining steady throughout the pivotal 2021-2022 years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Donors who give through channels like donor-advised funds are seeing the big picture,” Marlowe says, adding that unrestricted giving is vital as it goes towards all facets of the organization’s operations, including administrative, manufacturing and warehouse distribution.

As Marlowe puts it: “For those who understand what having a period is like, this is a cause to support.”

Photo courtesy of I Support the Girls.

About the Author

Aly Semigran, MSW is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She has been writing and editing professionally for over 15 years, with articles in Billboard, Well + Good, and Mic among many other notable publications. In addition to her editorial background, Aly earned her MSW from Temple University. She resides in Philadelphia with her dog, Ruby.