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

Laughter, tears and brassieres: Mardi Bras party at Rockwood collects donations for homeless women in Spokane

Bookended by laughter with tough conversations in the middle, women gathered at Rockwood South Hill for a Mardi Bras party Monday afternoon.

It’s typically the largest party for Transitions and Volunteers of America’s spring fundraiser that provides bras, underwear and personal hygiene products to women who are homeless in the Spokane area.

About 35 women donned Mardi Gras beads as they gathered in the retirement community’s event center. As Mary Jane Corliss got things started with a series of bra jokes, a few more residents crept in the back dropping off large bags full of bras and tampons.

“A good bra supports you through thick and thin, good times and bad, just like a friend,” Corliss said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

The tone soon turned serious, though, as a video played showing the fear and frustration of women being turned away from Hope House, the often-full women’s shelter. Sunday night, the shelter that has 80 beds turned away five women, said Rae-Lynn Barden, with Volunteers of America.

Angela Chapman, a graduate of Transitions, addressed the group. She shared her story of losing her house to foreclosure in 2012 and being homeless with her two children before entering the Transitions program, which offers resources and transitional housing.

Now, Chapman recently closed on a home and works at a community clinic that often serves homeless women.

Chapman’s story moved a few women to tears.

“I think it’s genius,” Chapman said of the fundraiser and its eye-catching name.

In her current job, she sees women deeply in need of new undergarments, but often it’s difficult or embarrassing to ask, even when at a shelter or clinic, she said.

Having the resources right there, “it validates them,” she said.

Following Chapman’s story, Sarah Lickfold, executive director of Transitions, answered questions from the group.

Last year, the Rockwood party was the largest Mardi Bras event. People host events at their home or club meetings, where attendees can bring donations throughout the month of February, followed by a drive-thru drop off event at Hope House on Friday afternoon.

Ruth Dillon, one of the Rockwood organizers, said she thinks the group may have topped last year’s donations.

“All of this,” Dillon said motioning to an overflowing table in the corner of the room. “It’s wonderful.”

For Marilyn DeCoster, who has been helping to organize the event for the last seven years, its catchy name drew her in.

“I really like the name,” she said with a chuckle.

Volunteering at Women’s Hearth, an area shelter run by Transitions, truly made the event’s mission hit home.

“I’ve gotten to know some of the women. I’ve heard their stories, and there’s never just one reason. People have had rough lives,” DeCoster said. “The fact that they can laugh and still have fun and make connections down there … they should be helped.”