A Vancouver-based nonprofit recently received nearly 5,000 bras from a door-to-door recycling co-op in Seattle, despite initial worries that the onset of COVID-19 could hamper donations.
The co-op, Ridwell, contacted the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation before the pandemic forced Washington to hunker down. The organization wanted to have its members donate new and gently used bras to the Vancouver nonprofit’s Gift of Lift program, said co-founder Michelle Bart.
“Not too sure what this would look like, we said we were honored and to go ahead, then COVID-19 hit,” Bart said. “We honestly never thought their members would be staying at home and still wanting to donate bras, but they came through in leaps and bounds.”
The thousands of bras that were donated have an estimated value of between $50,000 and $100,000, according to Bart. There were numerous bras with price tags still attached, she said.
Ridwell CEO Ryan Metzger said the main mission of his service organization is getting rid of unwanted items in positive ways, and whenever possible, that’s toward reuse. Metzger works with nonprofits to distribute what’s collected. He said he hopes to expand into Vancouver and Portland in the next six months.
Every two weeks, Ridwell’s members are asked to place unwanted belongings from five categories into their designated bins. Previously, collected bras were given to Free the Girls, which distributes the bras to women abroad who were trafficked and are now making a living operating clothing stores.
“Working with them was great, but we wanted to engage with NWCAVE to help people on a local level. Vancouver is several hours away, but it was nice to find the bras a home that’s relatively close,” Metzger said.
He said the number of bras donated was only a little surprising, because so many people are stuck at home.
“We’re seeing usage higher across the board. People are home and going through things more quickly. Still, the number received was higher than we thought it would be,” Metzger said.
Another company stepped up and ensured that the donated bras made it to Vancouver. Two Men and a Truck, a moving company, volunteered its namesake at no cost. The bras were picked up in Seattle, loaded onto a truck and unloaded in Clark County. Hiring the service would have cost the nonprofit $1,500.
Another expense had to be approved by the nonprofit’s board, as there were too many bras to keep in its single rented storage unit. Another unit was needed for one of the NWCAVE’s biggest services to the community.
Laura Gazarian, with the moving company, said the business is deemed essential, so employees have been busy despite the health crisis. The company was looking for ways to give back because its annual nationwide Movers for Moms campaign, during which donations are collected for families in shelters, was canceled this year due to COVID-19. The local branch had intended to work with Share House, Gazarian said.
“We were seeking a way to continue to give back to the community, so when NWCAVE reached out, it was a pleasure to help,” she said.
With Ridwell’s contribution, the program has collected more than 30,000 bras since its inception. The aim of the program is to collect and distribute new and used bras to women and girls locally, nationally and internationally. The majority of the bras stay in Oregon and Washington.
They are shared with other local nonprofits, Clark County Jail, the area’s homeless population, abuse shelters, and with five school districts through family resource centers.
Program has grown
In addition, post-surgical bras and breast prostheses collected through the program have been donated to Janus Youth, Kaiser Permanente and Legacy Heath transgender health programs for people transitioning from male to female.
It wasn’t always a part of NWCAVE. Vancouver plastic surgeon Dr. Allen Gabriel was looking for a nonprofit to take over in 2014. Bart said she’d thought it would be a one-year campaign. Now, it’s so big that people think it’s its own nonprofit, she said.
The annual budget for Gift of Lift was about $6,500 a year — before the new storage unit was needed. That’s another $2,500 per year. The new expense coupled with not being able to receive the bras from business partners, because of the stay-at-home order, meant that the donation from Ridwell will keep the program going for some time.
COVID-19 also caused the postponement of NWCAVE’s Fourth Biennial Women’s Festival, which was scheduled for Aug. 1. The event took two years of planning, and members hoped that it would raise $50,000 for the nonprofit. The money would have been divided up among all of its programs, including Gift of Lift.
The festival is now scheduled for July 31, 2021. People wanting to make donations can still do so on the nonprofit’s website.