Metro-East Living

Moms group collects bras to help sex trafficking survivors

Recycling bras for a cause

Fairview Heights Mothers of Preschoolers group collects bras for freethegirls.org that helps sex trafficking survivors.
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Fairview Heights Mothers of Preschoolers group collects bras for freethegirls.org that helps sex trafficking survivors.

Before Amanda Bryant left for her moms group Tuesday morning, she rummaged through her bra drawer.

“I brought a nursing bra and a sports bra I never used,” said the 28-year-old from Belleville.

Her bras were among more than 100 covering a long table at Christ United Methodist Church in Fairview Heights where Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) were meeting. The total was 141 bras and $136 donated for the cause. The new and gently used bras, in all colors, styles, and sizes, will be sent to Africa or Central America through Free the Girls, a nonprofit that provides job opportunities for survivors of sex trafficking. To re-enter the work force, the survivors sell bras in second-hand clothing markets. The good thing about the bra business is it’s women selling to women. As they make money, they can buy more bras. In turn, they support themselves and their children.

“I am kind of amazed I never heard of the organization before,” said Amanda, mom of a 13-month-old son. “I’m involved in a lot of organizations. It’s really an important thing to shine the light on, something a lot of people don’t like to think about. It’s amazing what they are doing, but heart-breaking knowing it’s something that happens all too often.”

According to the Free the Girls website, programs are set up in urban areas where women have long ago been exposed to Western culture, including the idea of wearing undergarments for support and shaping. Free The Girls program operates within this niche market and offers women better access to good-quality and properly-fitting undergarments.

“Depending on the program location and quality of the individual bra being sold, the women in our programs can sell bras for $1 to $10 per bra. When you consider the local minimum wage in many of these locations is as little as $3 per day, our program allows the women to make three to five times the local minimum wage.”

Free The Girls launched its first pilot program in Mozambique in 2011. In February 2012, it was featured on CNN’s Freedom Project. With support from all over the world, the nonprofit shipped more than 30,000 bras to Mozambique and increased the number of women in its program there to 24.

CNN then aired a follow-up on Free The Girls in February 2013 called “Mozambique or Bust.” They launched pilot programs with after-care providers in Uganda and El Salvador, increasing the number of women served to 60. They’ve now collected more than 500,000 new and gently used bras, including sports bras, nursing bras and camisoles.

Erica Kniffen, part of MOPS’ leadership committee, learned about Free the Girls earlier this year at a service conference for MOPS leaders.

“I was looking for a community service project. One of the women brought it up.”

It was just the right fit.

“Free the Girls was a great idea, beneficial, easy to do,” said Erica, 32, the Belleville mother of a 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. “Moms don’t have much free time. You meet yourself coming and going. It makes you feel good about helping out. It was something to do to give back to others. Everyone has tons of bras in the back of drawers. What do you do with them?”

Sara Belvin, 34, mom of three, donated nursing bras.

“I figured I was done having babies. They need to go to someone who can use them. I heard about this. This is where they have to go. It’s a really good cause. I feel like women should be entitled to wear bras even when they don’t have money or live in poor areas.”

Sara Robertson, Swansea, 35, mom of two, looked through her bra surplus.

“I didn’t know what to do with them. To donate and help someone, it was the perfect great cause. I brought eight.”

Bras on hangers hung from the stroller of sleeping 7-week-old Lainey Prince. They belong to her mom, Kelly Prince.

“I didn’t know if I had anything to give,” said Kelly, of Belleville. “Then, I started looking through drawers. Oh, yeah. I had some things.

“It’s such a small gesture, but obviously makes a big impact.”

Maureen Houston: 618-239-2664, @mhouston15

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)

  • Who can join: Anyone who is a mom or who is expecting.
  • What it is: Local chapter of an international program.
  • What to expect: Breakfast, fellowship with others, interesting speakers, crafts. Children are cared for in the church’s Creation Corner.
  • Option: Women at church take care of children during meeting.
  • When they meet: 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. the first and third Tuesday of the month from September through May. There’s also an evening group that meets from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
  • Where: 339 Frank Scott Parkway East, a few blocks east of Illinois 159 in Fairview Heights
  • Interested? See Christ United Methodist Church MOPS on Facebook. “You can just show up,” said Erica Kniffen. “The first month is free. Come in and see what it’s about.”
  • Annual fee: $50
  • Number in their group: 51 during the day; 65 if you include the evening group

Free The Girls.org

  • What it is: A nonprofit organization that works to provide jobs to survivors of sex trafficking in developing countries by helping them set up micro enterprises selling bras. Through the collection of bras in Western countries, the nonprofit educates people and organizations about the scourge of human trafficking worldwide.
  • How to donate bras: Hold a Free The Girls bra drive fundraising event. Bring them to a local drop-off location or mail directly to Free The Girls, 1552 Pioneer Trail, Chesterton, IN 46304. To help cover program costs, please consider donating $1 — or as they like to call it, “a buck and a bra.”
  • Closest drop-off site: Living Word UMC, 17315 Manchester Road, Wildwood, MO 63038, 314 974-0846. Contact: Kim McGee, kmmcgee@swbell.net. There is a bin set up in the church; hours are Monday-Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to noon
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