For A Good Cause: Teri Tullar Lawless, I Support the Girls

What is the mission of I Support the Girls?

We collect and distribute donations of new and gently used bras and individually sealed tampons and maxi pads to women and girls. We do not want women or girls missing opportunities for work or school for lack of basic care necessities.

Why is this mission so important?

Period poverty is real in the U.S. and abroad. Women and girls who are homeless are often “invisible” and have difficulty advocating for themselves. This especially true for minorities. Because many go to friends and relatives, instead of shelters, they are unseen and uncounted. But menstruation doesn’t stop for poverty, or natural disaster, or fire or job loss. It is there every month as a reminder. These needs are real in Central New York, in America as a whole, and across the globe.

Can you give me some background on the national organization?

In 2015 a woman named Dana Marlowe wanted to donate some gently used bras. Around that same time, she tripped across an article by Rachol Sadon in DCist on the need for bras and menstrual hygiene products in shelters. Most women in shelters had limited or no access to these products. Ms. Marlowe posted on social media July 13, 2015, to get things going. She got the support of friends, then schools, local businesses and massive corporations like Quicken Loans, The Marriott Corporation, the FDA and the USDA joining in. I Support the Girls/For the Girls, Inc. is a 501c3 not for profit, just celebrating its two-year anniversary.

How did a chapter come to be in the Central New York area? Why do we need one here?

I heard a story on WRVO-NPR about supporting homeless women with undergarments and feminine hygiene products. I reached out to ISTG, and was connected with a woman in Indianapolis who was getting things rolling in her community. New York state had no affiliates at that time, and I was eager to get started. We had a hugely successful kickoff month in November. The response from friends, family, co-workers, and community has been incredible. Overall, in November we collected over 600 bras, and 10,000-plus feminine hygiene products to redistribute in our communities. 

Syracuse has a great need for these supplies, as does our surrounding area. While Soma locally has been a contributor to Vera House, there are so many others in our community with a need. The Rescue Mission Shelters, Salvation Army shelters, The Boys and Girls Club, MOPS in the Syracuse City School District, local food pantries at St. Mark the Evangelist Episcopal Church and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville, and many more. We are a city with such rich diversity, refugees who are in need of help getting started as well as local families stretched thin by job loss, economic stress, and other concerns benefit from these donations. 

Who is involved in the local chapter? Why is it important to you to be involved?

I have two local women who are helping me get things going in CNY, Raeanne Ameele and Saralee Brown. Both are smart, educated women who think outside the box. I have had friends offer venues to host collection events in their workplaces and contact their friends to gather more supplies. My 16-year-old daughter and another young women spent hours of a weekend day sorting, labeling and counting hundreds of bras. Our first event had close to a dozen Cicero-North Syracuse alumni (my alma mater) show up with arms full! I literally cried when I saw the response from everyone. I really feel this is a need that we can fill in our area. We can make a difference. We can be the change.

Aside from the obvious, what does this provide for women and girls?

It provides the opportunity for choice in what some women and girls can do. If you are afraid to go to school because you know you will bleed through the one pad you have, you stay home. That’s a loss of instructional time for a normal physiologic function that we have no control over. It’s wrong. In some African countries it is estimated that young girls lose a year of schooling due to lack of menstrual hygiene products and proper facilities at school. That is a double disadvantage to these young women who are already discouraged from learning in so many areas. If not having appropriate attire, including support, keeps you from a job interview or even making an application, we can help. To feel pleased with yourself, your appearance, and how you greet the world is so important. Women and girls deserve that. 

Menstruation is still seen as a “taboo” topic. How do we get people to recognize this as a need?

We need to keep sharing information. We need to ask people if they need help with these matters. Very few are likely to say, “Hey, I know you wanted to bring me a meal, but I really need tampons!” They just won’t. We need to keep working to elevate girls and women, especially those affected by poverty, neglect, abuse, and violence. We need to always educate! 

Where do the products you collect go?

The ever-growing list includes the Rescue Mission shelters, Salvation Army shelters, Vera House, MOPS in SCSD, The Boys and Girls Club, local high schools, food pantries and individual persons in need. I am hoping to make contact with The Refugee Center and am getting ideas floated to me weekly.

How can people help?

Collect and donate! Like our FB page I Support the Girls-New York, check us out at local events or host one yourself. Have Book Club all bring a donation. Spring clean for ISTG, work with a local group to educate and collect for us. This has just begun for CNY, and we are really excited to see where we can take it.