Donating feminine hygiene products and bras is one way the YWCA empowers women

Bras and feminine hygiene products are some necessary items for woman, but the price tag makes these necessities a luxury for some. Moira Branigan, Executive Director of the YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region, and a handful of volunteers are out to change that.

Last month, a bright pink van boasting “Yep, this van is full of tampons,” made its way around the Great Lakes Bay Region, stopping in Bay City at the Bay Area Women’s Center., 3411 E. Midland Road.

Inside the van ­– nicknamed the Vangina, and sponsored by the international organization I Support the Girls (ISTG) – was more than tampons. The van also contained brand-new bras, underwear, and other hygiene products.

Just this year the local YWCA partnered with ISTG as a way to further help women in the region.

“This is very important to me,” says Branigan, “Our organization exists to empower women, among other things.”

Moira Branigan of the YWCA poses with the van when it stopped here.When women don’t have access to, or can’t afford, necessities, they can feel disempowered and overwhelmed. For school-age girls without tampons, pads, or other similar products, having a period can mean missing school. The YWCA was looking for ways to help, so they connected with the international organization.
Branigan says they also partner with local shelters to help women in need and have conducted several local drives.

“Whenever we’ve done a drive or we’ve communicated that we’re working on this project, so many people come out of the woodwork to help,” Branigan says.

Even though menstruation remains a somewhat taboo topic, people donate these products. “The need is there, and people recognize it and want to fill it. There’s a real compassion around it.”

Lindsey Richardson, Director of Development for the Bay Area Women’s Center, says, “Bras and underwear are often things we take for granted. We wear them every day and consider them a necessity, but we don't think twice about them.”

Women who leave a violent situation for a shelter usually are in a hurry and a clean bra isn’t the first thing they grab on the way out the door.

“Many come into shelter with only the clothes on their backs,” says Amanda Courier, Community Outreach and Volunteer Manager of BAWC.


“Without the support we receive from our community and organizations like this one, clients would be forced to wash their clothes every day or wear dirty items. Our clients are worthy of fresh, clean items and being able to provide them free-of-charge is a huge advantage in helping them on their journey to safety.”

Providing these items mean one less thing to worry about.

“For survivors who just need safety, and should be focusing on healing, affording the purchase of new undergarments is not something we want them to stress about,” Richardson says.

“Additionally, when a woman needs a tampon, she just reaches into whatever drawer or cupboard she stores them in at home. But what happens when she’s not in her own home? Her need for tampons doesn’t disappear.”

In mid-September, “Vangina” made its way around southern Lower Michigan, making stops in Bay City, Midland, Saginaw, Detroit, and Grand Rapids. It was loaded with necessities for shelters. When Branigan added the Vangina donation to what was collected locally, the YWCA was able to donate over 500 individual products plus new bras to the Women’s Center.

Richardson says the donation to the shelter is invaluable.

“Because of I support the Girls, we are able to ensure that survivors engaging with BAWC will have the essentials they need. Not only does this donation fill survivors’ needs, but it can increase confidence and feelings of self-worth – two feelings that may have been taken from them by their abuser.”

While donations to local drives add up to big benefits, Branigan says it is with the help of ISTG that they can spread those benefits further. She says partnerships between ISTG and manufacturers brought boxes and boxes of new bras and hygiene products into the region.

“The bras are so nice and they’re all brand new,” says Branigan, “These are $70 a piece retail, and they’re beautiful and high quality.”

Since it became an affiliate, the YWCA started receiving boxes of new products, which volunteers put into individual care-packages and donate to local shelters. The hygiene products also are distributed at the schools.

Branigan says the YWCA has been involved in trying to help young women in the community for some time, especially in schools.

“We donated about 200 care packages to the Bay Arenac ISD to help girls in need in the local school districts,” she says, adding that oftentimes in the summer months girls don’t have access to pads and tampons at home. “We wanted to help them during the summer months.”

There is always a need for undergarments and hygiene products, and ISTG notes an increase in the number of women who were either unable to get access or afford what they needed during the pandemic. The effort, which brought Vangina into the area, got started out of the recognition that “periods don’t stop for pandemics.”

Between September and November, ISTG plans to disseminate half a million products across the Northeast. For information on the Vangina Tour, visit iSupportTheGirls.org.

Branigan adds that the YWCA will continue hosting local drives to keep women supplied. The agency takes new or gently used bras, plus tampons, pads, and other hygiene products to support women in the area.

“It’s just a little bit of our time, and can go a long way. There’s a lot of these women who don’t have a lot or have any support at the time, so we just want to do our part,” she says.

For more information about donating, or helping with a local drive, contact Branigan at the YWCA at (989) 894-9055.