Oak Harbor resident Kate Mistler is the director of the Whidbey Island chapter of I Support the Girls, which gives bras, underwear and menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in need. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Oak Harbor resident Kate Mistler is the director of the Whidbey Island chapter of I Support the Girls, which gives bras, underwear and menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in need. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Whidbey organization fills a vital need for women and girls

The chapter of I Support the Girls collects and distributes bras, underwear and menstrual hygiene products.

Periods don’t stop for pandemics. Neither does I Support the Girls.

I Support the Girls is an international organization that collects and distributes bras, underwear and menstrual hygiene products — essential items — for women in need. Washington’s only affiliate chapter of I Support the Girls is based on Whidbey Island.

Kate Mistler launched I Support the Girls of Whidbey Island in 2019. As the affiliate chapter’s director, Mistler, of Oak Harbor, has donated more than 120,030 products to women — who are either homeless, impoverished or in distress — to help them maintain their dignity, self-respect and health.

Chapter volunteers make “period packs” to donate to organizations that help women. Each pack includes individually wrapped pads, tampons, liners and feminine wipes meant to last a woman through her time of the month.

Mistler said these products do more than just meet a basic need.

“Bras and menstrual hygiene products restore a woman’s dignity and self-respect, thereby relieving stress and improving her overall health,” she said. “I Support the Girls is not about a hand out — it’s about a hand up.”

Since the coronavirus hit, I Support the Girls has seen the need for bras and menstrual hygiene products increase by 35% nationally. Mistler said the Whidbey Island chapter’s need is up by 40% with the pandemic.

“Since COVID hit, donations have been virtually nil,” she said. “We are struggling to keep going here, but we are going to do it.”

Donations have been made to the likes of North Whidbey Help House, Opportunity Council, Skagit County Jail, Skagit Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services in Mount Vernon, Anacortes Family Services and Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center.

Most recently, the Whidbey Island affiliate chapter donated 8,300 products to the Oak Harbor School District.

“Many organizations collect the same donations we do, but the majority of those organizations send their collections overseas,” she said. “We keep our donations at home. Local donations stay local.”

Jean Wieman, executive director of North Whidbey Help House, is delighted to have help from I Support the Girls. She said the island’s homeless or low-income population will occasionally ask for bras, underwear and menstrual hygiene products. She said many of the women are fans of the period packs.

“They’re designed to last for one cycle and, when it’s empty, you can bring it back and we’ll fill it up for you,” Wieman said. “They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, what a great idea!’”

Melissa Frasch-Brown of The Opportunity Council said the Whidbey Island chapter helps them better serve their homeless, at-risk and veteran populations — in particular, women and girls. Mistler also provided products during the Point-in-Time homeless count for Island County.

“We were looking to the community to get a consistent flow of period supplies,” Frasch-Brown said. “Then Kate arrived just like an angel. Not only does she make period packs for us, but we receive humongous boxes of supplies that we’re able to keep at shelter. And then, when women are here, they don’t have the burden of having to purchase period supplies. This is a tremendous support and we appreciate all of her hard work.”

I Support the Girls recently received a $1,500 grant from the Whidbey Community Foundation and a $2,000 Oak Harbor/Island County CARES grant.

Mistler said the grants are a big help. Yet, she cautions that the need is always there, because periods don’t stop.

“No woman should have to choose between a menstrual product and a meal,” she said. “In this country, that is just not cool. Period. No pun intended.”

Mistler asks that you search your cabinets and drawers for bras and menstrual hygiene products to donate. Or have your business host a week-long drive to collect products for women in need.

The following is a list of I Support the Girls donation needs, in order of importance. Check out the organization’s Amazon wish list available at bit.ly/ISTGWhidbeyIsland.

Tampons and pads. These need to be individually wrapped. No liners, please — the Whidbey Island chapter has more than enough right now. Open packages are OK.

Menstrual cups. This reusable feminine hygiene product should be new and in the box.

Bras. All types, sizes and colors. New and gently used only. Training, nursing, sports, sexy, wired and wireless are all OK.

Panties. New only. All sizes and styles.

Toiletries. Body wash, lotion, toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouthwash, floss, deodorant, Q-tips and feminine wipes. No bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, combs or razors, please — the chapter has a lot of those.

Socks. New and gently used only. All styles, including nylons, colors and patterns. Men’s socks are also collected for the homeless.

“We depend entirely on donations from the generous people in our communities,” Mistler said. “We cannot help those who have a need without the help of those who have. And it’s so simple and easy — if you go out shopping and purchase one for yourself, shop the 2-for-1 sales and purchase one for a lady in need.”

Mistler said there still is a lot of need out there. Not only is I Support the Girls of Whidbey Island the only chapter in Washington, but it’s also the only one west of North Dakota and north of Colorado. In addition to donations and drives, Mistler is asking for more affiliate chapters in Washington.

“We need more affiliates to fill (in the map),” she said. “There are homeless and distressed women out there who need our help.”

In 2015, Dana Marlowe founded I Support the Girls in Washington, D.C. Now there are 58 affiliate chapters in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

In four years, I Support the Girls has donated more than 9.2 million products to 1,900 different social service organizations, including homeless shelters, food banks, prisons, hospitals and disaster relief.

Mistler found out about Marlowe and I Support the Girls thanks to the Facebook Watch show “Returning the Favor.” She watched the episode titled “The Bra Fairy,” where host Mike Rowe meets the founder and executive director of the organization.

“It was as if Mike Rowe and Dana Marlowe climbed out of my computer and kicked me in the butt and said, ‘You need to do this,’” she said.

You can watch the episode of “Returning the Favor” that inspired Mistler at tinyurl.com/brafairy.

As Whidbey Island volunteers help raise awareness of I Support the Girls, Mistler said more local organizations in need can receive donations.

Isha Alexander, of Coupeville, has been volunteering with I Support the Girls of Whidbey Island since March. Alexander wants to help make periods less taboo so that women in need can get the help they need — without embarrassment.

“It’s something I believe strongly in and it’s something that most people don’t even want to talk about,” Alexander said. “Women and girls have periods every month. We need to accept that and be able to say it.”

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

Want to help?

Send donations via mail to I Support the Girls, Attn: Kate Mistler, 1008 Diane Ave., Oak Harbor, WA 98277.

Donation drop boxes are in Oak Harbor at New Image Beauty Salon, 665 SE Pioneer Way No. 3, and Sugar Studio, 41 NE Midway Blvd., No. 103. Affiliate chapter director Kate Mistler said she plans to install more donation boxes around the island soon.

Volunteers also are needed to sew period packs, fill out grant applications and host collections or drives. Call 360-678-2090 or email paminron@gmail.com if you’d like to join the Whidbey Island chapter. Or if you’re interested in launching your own affiliate organization.

For more information, go to www.isupportthegirls.org or find I Support the Girls — Whidbey Island, WA on Facebook.

If you go

I Support the Girls of Whidbey Island is hosting a Bra Gifting Event from noon to 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Rolling Hills / Glencairn Community, 1126 Sidney St., Oak Harbor. Women in need are welcome to pick out three bras, three pairs of underwear and a couple pairs of socks. A limited number of tampons and pads will also be available.

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