The Journal Gazette
Saturday, February 06, 2016 10:01 pm

Indy woman collecting bras for homeless

SHARI RUDAVSKY | The Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS – Rachael Heger is no stranger to New Year’s resolutions. Each year she makes them – and keeps them. But this year, the year she will be turning 35, she decided to go big.

Inspired by a story about a Washington, D.C., area woman, Heger resolved this year to collect 3,500 new and gently used bras to donate to homeless women in Indianapolis by the time she celebrates her 35th birthday in December.

Heger, who lives in the Meridian Kessler neighborhood, shared her idea with a few friends, posted messages on a few Facebook sites, and six days later she had collected nearly 450 bras. And the lingerie keeps coming.

"Every time I open my door, there’s bags of bras. It’s just wonderful," said Heger, who worked as a librarian before her daughter was born.

In just 20 days, she amassed enough donations to deliver 500 bras to the Dayspring Center, a local social services agency that helps homeless families, as well as 25 nursing bras to Project Home Indy, an agency that serves homeless teen mothers.

The idea first occurred to Heger after she read a story about Dana Marlowe, a Maryland woman who a few months ago founded an organization called Support the Girls.

After losing about 35 pounds in a year, Marlowe realized her old bras no longer fit her well. At her husband’s insistence, she went to buy new bras.

What, she wondered, should she do with her old ones? Donate them, the saleswoman at the boutique told her.

"I donate so much stuff," Marlowe said in a phone interview, "but I never donated my bras because it never crossed my mind."

Marlowe called a homeless shelter, where she reached a staff member who greeted her offer with glee. We never get bras, he told her; I’ll take whatever you have.

And while you’re at it, he said, homeless women also need feminine hygiene products.

Soon thereafter, Marlowe recounted her tale to a friend. The second woman told her that she had a drawer full of bras she didn’t need either. At the end of July of this year, Marlowe created a Facebook page, asking other women to donate bras and feminine hygiene products.

By October she had 1,051 bras and 7,100 boxes of pads and tampons. The Washington Post covered her dropping off the cache at a homeless shelter, and other outlets such as the Huffington Post followed suit with their own reports.

Readers around the country and the world started calling Marlowe to ask how they could do that in their area.

And then there was the mother of a preschooler in Indianapolis who read the piece and thought: We need that here in our city, and I can do that.

"It seemed doable," Heger said. "It seemed like there was a real need, and I would be able to fulfill it. Bras are invisible usually, and so are homeless women."

Dayspring Center Executive Director Lori Casson knows how great the need can be. The women in the families that her organization helps often have to make difficult financial choices; food for the family and school uniforms for the children almost always win out over new undergarments for themselves that no one would see anyway.

People will donate new packs of underwear, but gently used bras are more difficult to come by, Casson said. Sometimes people donate bras, but their "gently used" garments are not so gently used after all. Without many bras on hand, it’s difficult to ensure that the right size is available for a woman in need.

"We often find that the women who come to our shelter haven’t had a new or proper-fitting garment for some time," Casson said. "Bras tend to be extremely expensive, especially when you get into larger sizes. A lot of times it’s cost-prohibitive."

A well-fitted bra isn’t just another piece of clothing. Instead, it can make or break an outfit. For women who are job-hunting and want to look professional, that can be particularly critical, Casson said.

"That’s something that is needed, because there’s only one first impression," she said.

Even women not on the job market can receive a boost of confidence from wearing a bra that improves their appearance, however subtly.

"For a lot of women, you need that support and you need the dignity that goes with it. If you’re in a good-fitting bra, it helps with self-esteem," Marlowe said.

Each year, Dayspring helps about 200 women who could benefit from Heger’s donations, Casson said. In addition, many of the families have pre-teen and teen girls who also could use undergarments.

Larger sizes tend to be in particularly short supply.

The way Heger has gone about this is just right, Marlowe said. She is using the same name as Marlowe’s organization but has established her own Facebook page and is working with local agencies that help homeless or at-need women.

Heger has collected bras in a range of sizes, running from 32 A to 42 DD. Sports bras, nursing bras, strapless bras, from the most basic of garments to some really fancy items.

Some women pass on bras given to them by old boyfriends. Others donate bras from pregnancies when they wore a larger size, times they wore a smaller size, or non-returnable purchases that did not look or fit as well when they got home as the garments did in the store.

"I had way too many ­sizes in my own drawer," Heger said. "Women change sizes a lot. That also has helped my supply."

Her past work as a librarian served her in good stead. She has organized the donated bras by size so if an organization needs a certain number of a certain size, she can readily access them. One of the benefits of collecting bras, she has learned, is how small they are.

"It’s kind of funny how little space 500 bras takes up. I have them in my basement," she said.

Share this article

Email story

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required