Dana Marlowe, CEO of 'I Support The Girls' | Washington, D.C.
Dana Marlowe is the CEO of ‘I Support The Girls,’ an organization that distributes necessities such as bras, pads, tampons, and various hygiene products to underprivileged women. I Support The Girls takes part in numerous programs, and has many locations throughout the United States and internationally. Dana Marlowe is from Maryland and founded I Support The Girls in 2015.
Saira Rathod is a high school senior, and an intern with The Fem Word.
Saira: Thank you so much for sharing your story on The Fem Word, Dana! Can you please explain the mission of I Support The Girls?
Dana: We always say, “a woman shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health.” Our mission is that through an international network of affiliates, I Support the Girls collects and distributes essential items, including bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products, allowing women experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress to stand tall with dignity.
Saira: What does it mean to you to run this organization and see the support it has received in just a few years?
Dana: It’s hard to wrap my head around the growth of a single accidental Facebook post. It is now a global organization called I Support The Girls (ISTG). In just 4 short years we have collected and distributed over 4 million basic necessities and helped over 410,000 girls and women retain their dignity. The generosity of our donors is astounding. ISTG now has 52 affiliate locations in the U.S. and four more globally. We collect and donate locally. Our donors always answer the bell to help people in their own community.
Saira: What are the challenges you faced when starting and growing I Support The Girls or in general in your life, and how did you overcome them?
Dana: A lot of people tend to get grossed out when topics of menstruation and people experiencing homelessness are brought up. One of the challenges with starting ISTG was overcoming this taboo factor. We also had to deal with the fact that while bras are silly and sexy, they are a real need for health and self-esteem needs. It was difficult sometimes to be taken seriously when women’s rights are often not treated with the respect they deserve. By all accounts, we have scaled [up] our organization faster than I could have ever imagined. This means managing more employees and trying to meet the needs of many, many more people. This means more time spent on management, logistics, and process. But this has proved to be a blessing in disguise: when a sudden need of large proportions arises, we are in place to assist on a large scale. For example, when flooding in Houston took place, ISTG already had experience with trying to supply evacuees of natural disasters. That meant we were ready in advance for what happened in Houston with hurricane Harvey. Growth can be painful, but if it means helping more women maintain their dignity, we're up for the challenge!
Saira: What is it like to work with a community of advocates that you have created through your organization?
Dana: It’s inspiring and encouraging. Although each of our affiliate directors are different and unique, we are all of a single mind: dignity matters. From hosting movie night collection drives, being featured on local NBC news stations, to collecting products for those affected by natural disasters; our affiliates are what help keep this organization going. They sacrifice their personal space to store thousands of products in their homes. Their families get involved by helping to wash, sort, count, bag and donate thousands of products to those in need. It's a community of women who not only support our mission and help us reach more people across the country and the world, but also who support and empower each other.
Saira: What motivates you when you wake up in the morning?
Dana: While I was asleep there was a woman who fled a violent partner. She silently left her house with her kids and the clothes on her back. She has nothing - no roof over her head, no possessions, no money. She has to scramble to find food and a bed for herself and her kids. Here's what I know: she's not thinking about tampons. But periods don't stop because you're homeless. And when it does start, she will have no money or access to products. It's not just a matter of health; it's a matter of dignity. And it's my job every second that I'm awake to figure out how we can get her the basic necessities she desperately needs.
Saira: What are some of the biggest accomplishments I Support The Girls has achieved?
Dana: In four short years I Support the Girls has...established 52 U.S. affiliates and 4 more globally, collected and distributed over 4,000,000 basic necessity products, helped 410,000 women to maintain their dignity, worked with over 800 vetted donation partners, distributed 210,000 menstrual hygiene products to high school students to keep girls in school when they have their period, and distributed 350,000 products to evacuees of natural disasters.
Saira: What makes you feel powerful?
Dana: When my seven-year-old son can educate an adult on periods, I feel powerful. That may not have happened if pads and tampons weren’t such a regular occurrence in our home, or a topic of conversation. I also feel powerful when I hear about the global impact that I Support the Girls is having in developing nations. For example, our Affiliate Director in Pakistan has implemented a program that educates young girls on menstrual health and care and provides them with period packs.
Saira: Can you describe a moment when you felt powerful?
Dana: It’s difficult for me to think of a time when I alone felt powerful, because ISTG is successful due to the collective hard work of our staff and affiliates throughout the world. Yet, there have been many times during natural disaster crises, when organizations have reached out directly to I Support the Girls for help, rather than going to larger menstrual hygiene providers. Those are moments when I have felt powerful - knowing that other organizations sought out I Support the Girls to help in these crises and we were able to meet those needs.
Saira: What are the future plans and goals for I Support The Girls?
Dana: I Support the Girls are hosting our first ever Affiliate Retreat in Baltimore, Maryland this upcoming November. Our affiliates from all over the U.S. and the world are coming together for a weekend of networking, learning, and relationship building. Most of our affiliates have never met in person, so this will be a time for all of the women to connect and swap stories in real life. We plan on opening warehouses in cities across the U.S. in order to be able to receive, store, and eventually distribute more products. ISTG will be expanding its advocacy efforts to advocate for the rights of people experiencing homelessness, push for schools and public buildings to carry menstrual hygiene products that can be taken for free, and to campaign for the elimination of the tampon tax across the U.S. Women who are experiencing homelessness often need to choose between tampons or a hot meal. The tax further hinders their ability to even consider purchasing a box of tampons.
Saira: As a leader and founder of I Support The Girls, what would you say to younger girls who aspire to be leaders and activists one day?
Dana: There’s nothing inherently special about me. I’m just a suburban mom who saw a need and sought to meet it - but it all began with a simple Facebook post. I would tell young girls that I Support the Girls shows that anyone can do this. No matter your abilities, age, experience, or resources, we are all capable of giving back in small ways. Don’t underestimate the power of small acts. They matter; before you know it you’re running a global NGO.
Saira: How can people help and donate to I Support The Girls?
Dana: Financial donations allow us to expand our efforts and help more girls and women maintain their dignity. You can donate online via our website. ISTG also accepts donations of new or gently used bras and unopened packages of menstrual hygiene products. We have the greatest need for overnight maxi pads and sports bras.
You can mail the products to:
I Support the Girls
Attn: Dana Marlowe
P.O. Box 2736
Wheaton, Maryland 20915
We keep every single note and we are so grateful for every donation we receive and the thoughtful person behind them.