I started working with Denver based, Free the Girls several months ago. I’m from Colorado and a friend on Facebook posted a link about them that piqued my interest. I had been looking for a new volunteer opportunity that would work with my busy schedule and honor a cause that was important to me.
Free the Girls is a 501 c (3) non profit organization that partners with safe houses and after care facilities to provide work opportunities for survivors of sex slavery and human trafficking selling new and gently used bras. I reached out to the organization and expressed an interest in helping to collect bras by organizing “bra drives”. I gathered a bin, printed some signs, created fliers to help spread the word and started collecting bras at local burlesque shows. I asked if they would accept bras that had been embellished and they encouraged such donations. I find it poetic that, as burlesque performers, we have the freedom to literally take our bras off and give them to another to help her reclaim her freedom.
I had some luck collecting bras at first, but not nearly the bounty for which I was hoping. Then, things became particularly exciting when I was approached to get involved with the Hollywood Burlesque Festival as the Charity Organizer. I knew this would be a great opportunity to promote Free the Girls and collect a significant amount of bras for donation and it was a humble way for me to contribute to the festival. I felt a swelling sense of gratitude to see two of my passions–volunteer work and burlesque–collide. BOOM! BANG! POW! Great things were bound to happen. Between Free the Girls and the HBQF crew we were able to start spreading the word and before long, it became obvious that many performers were delighted to get involved with a cause helping fellow women.
We kicked off our first bra drive at the Hollywood Burlesque Festival Fundraiser–All Star Showcase, presented by Bobbie Burlesque at M Bar. I was blown away by the number of bras we collected. Audience members and performers alike made donations and filled our bin to the brim. Thank you so much to everyone who made a donation.
So what happens to those bras now?
First they will be shipped back to Free The Girls. A program will then be initiated at a safe house with a donation of bras. It will be set up to be sustainable and women can purchase more bras at a discounted wholesale price. Bras are a highly sought after item in many countries and many of the women were sold at young ages and missed out on the opportunity to attend school. By selling bras they are able to reclaim the opportunities they lost after being sold into slavery by attending school, getting the health care they need and caring for their families, all while earning an income.
In July 2012, 32,000 bras were shipped to Mozambique. The women in the program have been able to sell between 100-500 bras each month and depending on the community, some of the women are able to make 3-5 times the minimum wage selling bras. There are other programs being launched in Kenya, Uganda and El Salvador.
Free the Girls recently held their first ever fundraising gala for which I decorated and donated a Denver Broncos inspired bra for auction. Go Broncos! 😉 I have gained immense pleasure from getting involved with this organization. The employees of Free the Girls have been fabulous, fun and friendly and I hope to meet up with some of them on a trip to Denver in the near future. I feel lucky to be able to watch the HBQF and Free the Girls grow during their respective inaugural year. I hope you will join me in supporting both the Hollywood Burlesque Festival and Free the Girls. I have no doubt that we will be sending a large amount of braziers back to Colorado in December.
Check your calendars and make sure to come out to the Hollywood Burlesque Festival fundraising events and get your tickets for the festival happening December 6-9th…and remember to bring a new or gently used bra to any HBQF event, we will gladly accept it on behalf of our sisters.
Charity Coordinator, Hollywood Burlesque Festival