CHERRY HILL - Somewhere between a 2015 Huffington Post story and Samantha Bee's endorsement, a local nonprofit became a big deal.
Launched three years ago from the living room of Joanie Balderstone and Rebecca McIntire, Distributing Dignity has since swelled to fill a warehouse near their home.
In 2014, the couple packed personalized purple gift bags with new bras and feminine hygiene products destined for charities serving girls and women in South Jersey and Philadelphia. They still do that today, but since gaining national exposure, they also ship donations to 70 organizations in 52 cities across 17 states, from California to Massachusetts.
"For women, they're a necessity on a regular basis," Balderstone said. "The need was much larger than we ever anticipated."
They partner with organizations serving a broad spectrum of women, from couch-surfing teenagers and homeless female veterans to domestic violence survivors and girls aging out of the foster care system. Some nonprofits serve women recovering from a life-altering illness, including addiction and cancer.
Others serve women in rural and suburban parts of the country. One served a Native American reservation in South Dakota, where the two women heard stories about teens missing school, because they didn't have pads or tampons.
Whatever their situation or location, "it's the same need," McIntire noted. "It's across the United States."
Media exposure brought more requests, but more donations, too. Manufacturers and stores donate feminine hygiene products by the pallet load. Already this year, Distributing Dignity gave away nearly 90,000 tampons to women in need, including 8,600 LOLA tampons to Respond Now in Chicago Heights, Illinois.
The nonprofit spends much of its donated cash on bras. Larger sizes are in constant demand, as are comfortable sport bras.
When an organization makes a large request, like the 209 undergarments delivered this year to the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission in Philadelphia, the women package a variety of bras in different cup and band sizes.
When the donations are destined for girls, the women steer clear of push-up bras and hunt for age-appropriate gear, or put out requests through their Facebook page for specific styles and sizes. Sports bras are especially popular. After a request for 82 bras from the Center for Family Services in Camden, donors filled the order in a couple weeks.
"People are very generous," said McIntire, especially when the request is specific.
Jen Hammill, a spokeswoman for the Camden-based nonprofit, called Distributing Dignity "tremendous supporters."
"The reaction from our kids — knowing that there are people out there who care about them — it means so much," Hammill said.
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