Oak Harbor woman collects personal items for women in need

Gravity impacts everyone, but for women it can present its unique challenges. Oak Harbor resident Kate Mistler is offering support.

The bra as we know it today was invented in 1914, but females had been using other methods of containment for ages. For most women, they’re considered a necessity. But when clothing drives and donations are made to benefit homeless or low-income people, those items are often overlooked.

Mistler recently learned about the nonprofit organization I Support the Girls, which collects and distributes bras and feminine hygiene products to local women in need.

“It made me feel guilty because it’s something I should’ve thought of before but never did,” she said. “It’s something we take for granted.”

There are 50 affiliates of the organization across the U.S. and abroad, but Mistler noticed lack of presence on the West Coast. She emailed its members and is on her way to becoming an official affiliate.

For now, she’s doing all she can to address the issue but she said she could use help. Last Tuesday she and her friend Kristi Lovelady stood outside Walmart for five hours with a poster board explaining the issue and a box full of bras, sanitary pads and tampons.

“We’re getting the word out, and it’s going better than I anticipated,” Mistler said.

Since then, her efforts have only ramped up. She has arranged to take collections in front of Walmart again Tuesday, March 19; Saturday, April 13 and Saturday, April 27. She placed a garbage bin —- decorated with bright drawings of a bra, tampon and sanitary pad —- for collections in front of her house and will accept donations at any time. She’s been in contact with The Goose Community Grocer in Langley and Payless Foods in Freeland about setting up a table and collecting on the South End as well.

If groups get together and collect several items, she said she’ll pick them up. One of her contributors chooses to remain anonymous and orders donations online and ships them to Mistler, she said.

Every item collected will be distributed locally, she said.

She logs and tracks each product she receives and fills bags with assorted sizes and feminine hygiene products. She has dropped off the collections at the Whidbey Homeless Coalition and Ryan’s House and plans on stopping at the Haven homeless shelter and the Garage of Blessings soon.

She’s hoping more volunteers will step up as the word gets out.

She only learned about I Support the Girls a month ago after watching an episode of the Facebook series “Returning the Favor.”

“I’ve always donated to different causes,” Mistler said, “but I’ve never gotten into it full bore like I am now.”

As she watched the show, she was struck by stories of women using cardboard or newspapers in lieu of sanitary pads. She knows people are sometimes uncomfortable talking about menstruation or bras, but she’s trying to change that because it’s a real issue facing women in the community.

Eventually, she wants to expand the cause to the regional level.

“We are trying to bring awareness here,” she said. “And this is just the beginning.”

• To learn more about donating or volunteering, contact Kate Mistler at 360-678-2090 or paminron@gmail.com. Donations can be delivered or shipped to 1008 Diane Ave., Oak Harbor, WA 98277