I Support the Girls plans for the “Undy 500”

— Created April 27, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

A Whidbey Island nonprofit has come up with a unique, competitive collection drive for the month of May.

I Support the Girls of Whidbey Island, which collects new underwear, new and gently used bras, new toiletry items and feminine hygiene products for women and girls in need of them, will kick off the “Undy 500” May 1, in hopes of collecting at least 500 pairs of new panties. The business that collects the most donations will get a framed certificate of appreciation, publicity and bragging rights for a year.

To make the drive even more interesting, organizers are hoping to place donation bins up and down Whidbey Island in bars, taverns, pubs, tap houses and breweries.

“We’ve done challenges between fitness centers and salons, so we thought we’d try a different mindset and see what happens,” said ISTG Affiliate Director, Kate Mistler. “Because the name is a play on the Indianapolis 500, we thought of how people like to go to sports bars and we thought we’d go with that and just see what happens. It’s just a fun, month-long drive.”

Volunteers for ISTG will be out this week, seeking venues in which to place a collection bin and a poster. Participants will be asked to place them in a high visibility spot.

“If anybody out there knows of a bar, tavern, pub, brewery or tap house that might like to participate, have them contact me,” Mistler said. “I’d love to talk to them.

“Our goal is to get 500 pairs of new underpants. Anything over and above that is the cherry on top of the sundae,” she continued. “We are especially in need of super small sizes and large sizes, like size fives and size 10 and over. We don’t need toiletries or bras at this point, and we can always use menstrual hygiene products.”

Mistler helped found the Whidbey Island chapter of I Support the Girls three years ago.

“In a nutshell, I Support the Girls is an international nonprofit organization that relies on donations from the public, from our communities, of new and gently-used bras, new underpants, toiletries, menstrual products and socks for homeless people, mostly for women, but if men’s items are donated, we’ll get them to them,” she explained. “We work through vetted organizations, like North Whidbey Help House and Opportunity Council, all over the island. We try to give the [Island County] jail as much as we can and we work with all the school districts on the island to make sure women and girls have clean underpants and feminine hygiene products.”

Currently, Mistler said ISTG-Whidbey Island works with 57 different vetted organizations. Its reach has even extended to different counties, although the bulk of all donations stay on Whidbey.

“This particular chapter focuses mostly on Whidbey, because we believe local donations should stay local,” she said. “But when we have more than we can give out, we are happy to share. It doesn’t do anybody any good to have me storing this stuff when there are women out there who could really use it.”

Feminine hygiene needs are not a popular topic of conversation. It can be embarrassing and uncomfortable for many. Mistler said she’s found that if she’s not embarrassed to talk about it, it puts other people at ease, and not talking about it doesn’t make the need go away.

“It is an extremely huge need, because periods don’t stop for anything,” Mistler said. It’s an ongoing process. I try to bring awareness of period poverty and menstrual equity. It’s becoming more widely accepted that these issues really are a problem and people are more and more willing to help.”

The pandemic has seen that need increase, according to Mistler.

“The need during COVID grew 38 percent and it’s not backing off,” she said. “Inflation is definitely impacting things too, as well as the war in Ukraine. All the affiliates and I are trying to collect menstrual hygiene products to ship to headquarters and they ship it from there. We also try to hold back some supplies in preparation for survivors of natural disasters like fires, flooding and all that. When you’re trying to save your life, you forget about all those other things, until you need it.”

A new state law means school districts will also have to have feminine hygiene products in supply at no cost for students who need them. Mistler said she is hoping ISTG can help with that.

“My desire is to see the schools are well stocked when school starts in the fall,” she said. “But I don’t have room to store that much, so I want to make arrangements to collect supplies and get them to the school districts in preparation for next September.”

In the meantime, Mistler said she hopes the Undy 500 will help by providing much needed supplies, and by raising awareness.

“Homeless ladies, low-income ladies, women fleeing abusive situations, survivors of natural disasters and even survivors of sex trafficking can all sadly be lacking in dignity when it comes to feminine hygiene needs,” she said. “A good fitting bra, proper hygiene products or good, new panties not only helps them have self-respect, it also improves health. Everybody deserves dignity and good health. There are too many of us out there who take it for granted.

“The light you see coming on in people’s eyes when they realize the need is a phenomenal, amazing experience,” Mistler continued. “If I can help bring awareness and help ladies who are experiencing distress for whatever reason, it’s just a phenomenal thing.”

Anyone interested in volunteering and becoming a part of I Support the Girls, or any business interested in taking part in the Undy 500 during May, can contact Mistler by phone at 360-678-2090 or by email at istg.whidbeyisland@gmail.com.