Of all the donations needed during a disaster like Hurricane Harvey, some of the most essential items are often the most forgotten: underwear and menstrual hygiene products.
But thanks to one Houston-area lingerie boutique, Top Drawer Lingerie, more than $200,000 worth of new bras were donated to more than 5,000 people in the aftermath of the storm. It's an example of how local businesses, not just individual citizens, rallied together in support of the city, says I Support the Girls founder Dana Marlowe.
"So often when people evacuate their homes, you're not thinking how long you are going to be gone, and you're not necessarily thinking you might get your period in five days," Marlowe said.
Not to mention how sweaty and dirty you're going to be if you are mucking and gutting your house, she added. "Periods don't stop for hurricanes."
I Support the Girls has collected and distributed basic dignity items like bras, chest binders, underwear, and sanitary products since 2015, after Marlowe learned homeless shelters and other charities often don't receive those items in their regular donations.
The nonprofit, which is based in Maryland, has worked during previous disasters, so when Marlowe saw that Harvey was headed for Texas, she mobilized her small team to start front-loading donations to the Gulf Coast. That included coordinating with Woodland Heights resident Jennifer Jacobs, who just a few months earlier had started an I Support the Girls chapter in Houston.
"I'd heard a segment on NPR about how homeless women had to choose between buying food and buying tampons," Jacobs said.
Enter Dow Hickam, owner of Top Drawer Lingerie, which has been selling high-quality undergarments to customers in Houston since 1983. Hickam's father bought the store in the late '90s from its original owner, and Top Drawer has been family-run ever since.
Hickam had been stockpiling a collection of unsold merchandise to donate to Dress for Success, but after seeing the immediate need at the George R. Brown, he decided to take it there instead. Hickam also saw author Brene Brown's viral video asking for underwear donations for a similar charitable organization, Undies for Everyone, and decided to start asking for bra donations instead. He Googled for an organization to partner with and found I Support the Girls.
Soon after, vendors, other lingerie stores from across the country, and even Top Drawer's loyal customers were sending in huge caches of bras. Whenever a large enough shipment would come in, Jacobs would collect it and take it to the GRB.
"I was absolutely amazed at how other lingerie stores and the vendors pitched in," Hickam said.
"For the women who get these bras, they represent a lifeline of dignity," Marlowe added. "Your life is changing minute to minute, and this is one less worry on your plate. That's the impact a small business can have, because larger companies have so much red tape. People can give back in whatever way they can."
For Jacobs, whose own house flooded, running the donations gave her something else to focus on. Now that the storm's aftermath has somewhat subsided, Jacobs says she's thinking about how to proceed next with I Support the Girls' nascent Houston chapter, which may include ongoing donation drives.
"In general, people have gotten on with their lives," she said. "After the holiday season, I'm hoping to reevaluate."