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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Volunteers of America launches annual ‘Mardi Bras’ fundraiser collecting bras, feminine care products for homeless women

Rae-Lynn Barden, of Volunteers of America, sets up a donation box at Central YMCA in Spokane Tuesday for the Mardi Bras fundraiser. Continuing their collaboration, Volunteers of America and Transitions invite the Spokane community to participate in a variety of ways to help women experiencing homelessness.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

When the pink box for Mardi Bras donations was placed in the New Leaf Café on Tuesday morning, Mirah Hapa smiled, thinking of her favorite bra.

Hapa, now 31, had just moved into an apartment and was in the Volunteers of America Transitions program. She didn’t have much, and used the organization to get supplies like a new bra, tampons and deodorant.

Now years later, Hapa is the manager of the New Leaf Café at the Central YMCA. She recently graduated from Spokane Falls Community College and gives back to women who, just like her, are struggling to get back on their feet.

She plans to donate to the latest Mardi Bras fundraiser that launched this month.

The seventh annual fundraiser runs throughout February and into March, collecting money and donations of bras, underwear, tampons, deodorant, razors and bus passes for women who need help.

“We recognize that women in shelters need feminine hygiene products,” said VOA’s Rae-Lynn Barden, as she set up a donation box at the Central YMCA Tuesday.

There are six drop boxes throughout the community: two at the Central YMCA, one at Dry Fly downtown, Berserk Bar, Neato Burrito and at the New Leaf Café in the Central Library.

People can also drop off donations at VOA’s offices at 525 W. Second Ave. in Spokane.

About 30 people each year host Mardi Bras parties, where people gather to chat, have a drink and bring donations. Party hosts and community members can drop off their supplies on March 3 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Hope House, 318 S. Adams St.

Last year, the fundraiser brought in more than a thousand bras, 1,200 pairs of underwear and more than 5,000 tampons and pads, along with more than 700 pairs of socks.

Bras and underwear at both ends of the size spectrum are in high demand, Barden said, noting it’s most common for people to donate items in the middle of the size range. Tampons are also in high demand, she said. VOA accepts gently used bras as well.

The donation drive supplies Volunteers of America and programs it supports like Hope House, Transitions, foster youth and other organizations for the entire year.

“This is a need that is still overlooked,” Barden said.