Improving The Lives Of Women & Girls

Every day, my job allows me to meet amazing people who are interested in the mission of Free The Girls. If I talk to someone long enough, the same question always comes up in some form; everyone wants to know, “How did you get involved with Free The Girls?”

In the fall of 2010, human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, was still a fairly new concept to me. Although I was working as an appellate prosecutor for the State of Arizona, most everything I knew about the crime of human trafficking, I had learned as a member of a nonprofit service organization called Soroptimist International (SI) that works to improve the lives of women and girls in our local community and around the world. Several members of my local SI club, SI Kachinas, traveled around the Phoenix metro area presenting an educational program about trafficking in an effort to raise awareness with teens, parents, teachers, and municipal leaders about the risk posed to our children by domestic minor sexual trafficking–or, the forced prostitution of underage minors–in the Phoenix metro area. 

One day on Facebook, I saw that a friend in Cheyenne, Wyoming was having a bra drive for a brand new nonprofit organization called Free The Girls. Intrigued, I checked them out online and immediately decided that I wanted to be involved, too. When I told my Soroptimist club about how Free The Girls helped women and girls rescued from sex trafficking, we decided to have a bra drive. Everything about the mission of Free The Girls fit the Soroptimist mission to improve the lives of women and girls.

In November 2010, at an event we dubbed “Bunco and Bras,” my Soroptimist club collected over 400 bras! What does 400 bras look like? Well, the double bed in my guest room literally disappeared under dozens of bags of bras. How was I going to get 400 bras from Arizona to Colorado? I had no idea.

Yes, I could have mailed them, but that seemed so expensive when I knew I would be driving through Denver on my way to Wyoming for Christmas. I decided it would be cheaper and easier to drop them off at Free The Girls. FTG Executive Director Kimba Langas agreed to my plan, but surprised me with an invitation to join her for lunch at her house. (It would be another year before I realized that Kimba invited me to her house instead of her office because Free The Girls was operating from her home office.) Not wanting to intrude on her life, I tried to decline the invitation, blaming my traveling companion, Cody (a sweet 65-pound female pit bull mix) and my food allergies. But on December 20, 2010, I dropped off 4 large garbage bags of bras at Kimba’s house and stayed for a delicious, gluten-free lunch with her and her son while my dog raced around her back yard, delighted to be out of the car. I left her house that day hoping I could somehow continue to be involved with this amazing woman and her intriguing organization.

Less than 6 months later, I was organizing another bra drive. This time, as part of the Spring Conference of Soroptimist’s Golden West Region in Chandler, Arizona. I hoped to double the efforts of my club’s first bra drive and set an ambitious goal of collecting 1,000 bras. The Region’s leadership challenged Soroptimist from California, Arizona, and New Mexico to collect bras in their local communities and bring them to the conference. My 1,000 bra goal was blown out during the first hour of registration, and long before the conference even started. All told, Soroptimist from the Golden West Region collected 8,000 bras (yes, eight thousand) along with several hundred dollars in donations to pay for shipping. 

Suddenly, an entire bay of my garage was piled high with an assortment of bags, bins, and boxes containing 8,000 bras. Several local TV stations heard about the bra drive and came out to my garage to see the spectacle. How was I going to get 8,000 bras from Arizona to Colorado? This time, mailing them was definitely not an option, the expense to mail dozens of large boxes would have exceeded the donations we collected. In fact, just purchasing the boxes needed to repack the bras for shipping would have eaten up a good part of the donations.

Undeterred, a few emails and phone calls later, I was talking to Bruce Dusenbury, President of Horizon Moving, a local United Van Lines affiliate. Bruce not only agreed to arrange for a truck to pick up the bras from my house and get them to Free The Girls in Colorado at no cost, he donated 40+ medium-sized moving boxes and a dozen rolls of tape to help Soroptimist pack the bras up. Sorting through 8,000 bras with 20 or so Soroptimist girlfriends was a blast and it reaffirmed why we, as Soroptimists, do what we do.

Looking back now, I could have never imagined that something so silly and fun would become my passion, much less my career. When it all started, my part in organizing the Soroptimist bra drives and fundraisers for Free The Girls were typical acts of service as a member of a volunteer organization that seeks to improve the lives of women and girls through programs, fundraisers, and community service. 

Blog Courtesy of Melissa Watson, Free The Girls National Director

Photos Courtesy of Soroptimist International of the Kachinas, Glendale, Arizona

Please note that bra drive donations are now shipped to Free The Girls inventory sorting facility in Indiana. For more information, click here.

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