For women escaping domestic violence, homelessness and other obstacles, a nonprofit in Charleston is helping provide them with basic but often overlooked necessities: new bras and underwear.
The Undergarment Society encourages people to host parties where guests bring bras and packaged underwear in all sizes. The nonprofit then donates them to Lowcountry organizations that help women and teenage girls start anew.
An initial fundraiser in March 2017 was an unexpected hit, and co-founders and Porter-Gaud teachers Elizabeth Stribling and Eliza Chandler since have collected more than 3,000 undergarments for groups such as Carolina Youth Development Center, Florence Crittenton Programs of South Carolina and One80 Place.
Women volunteer to host a "party with a purpose," and Stribling and Chandler help with the invitations and thank-you notes. Events have ranged from a small church meetup centered around meaningful discussion to fancy catered dinners.
Some women have asked for donations for the nonprofit instead of gifts at their birthday parties.
Stribling said The Undergarment Society encourages women to come together to help others reclaim their dignity when starting over. Donors might give a high-end bra in hopes of offering confidence to a woman going for a job interview. Others might donate a comfortable sports bra for a woman sleeping in temporary shelter.
Chandler was inspired to start the effort after reading an article about a "Mardi Bra" party for at-risk women. Stribling, who recently had taken her daughters to a local women's march, soon got on board.
"It felt like this small, local action is a way we can help women in need in South Carolina," Stribling said.
Undergarments aren't often on people's list of items to donate, said Gordon Robertson, vice president of development at Carolina Youth Development Center. The North Charleston nonprofit provides shelter and programs for foster children and other vulnerable youth.
Robertson said donations from The Undergarment Society help address a constant demand.
"Our youth go through bras, underwear, socks and other items just like other young people do, but they come to us with nothing in the first place," he said. "So it’s a critically important support they’re providing."
At the Florence Crittenton home in Charleston, The Undergarment Society's donations go to young women who are pregnant or raising children. Caitlin Waddington, executive director of the nonprofit, said new bras and underwear are important as women experience milestones such as going to prom or nursing their babies.
"It helps with their feeling confident in their body and how they present themselves," Waddington said. "A lot of that is supported by the undergarments."