Support Our Sisters Delivers Bras to Women In Need
Sacramento Region, CA (MPG) - Lynne Shelton and Sheryl Smith are busy stuffing suit case after suit case with vacuum packed bundles of support bound for underserved women on farms in South Africa.
Mesh bags of bras, yes, that kind of support, adorned in pink polka dots, purple lace, black on black, white, leopard print, red satin, padded, non-padded, wired and soft framed, are strewn across the entryway and much of the dining room in Shelton’s Rancho Cordova home. Bras are pretty much everywhere.
By late August, Shelton and Smith, with the help of a few other volunteers, will board a plane on Emirates Airlines with roughly 1,000 donated bras bound for four different farms in Mokipane, roughly two hours from Johannesburg, where shopping can cost a woman roughly nine month’s wages, not mention prove an aggravating experience for many there who are well-endowed and know only the pains of wearing bras that are as much as two or three sizes too small for them, that is if they have ever even owned one.
“You would be surprised by the number of women working on these farms that either have never worn a bra, or are wearing bras that are too small for them,” says Shelton, founder of Support Our Sisters™ (SOS), which delivered 522 donated new and gently used bras to South African women in need in August of 2016. “It’s something that we take for granted here, but getting a bra for the first time, to these women, is a huge deal.”
This year, the number of bras being packed into air tight packages and stuffed into roll on suitcases is nearly double the year prior, which is a good thing, because this year SOS will be serving roughly 400 women on four different farms, nearly double the number of women served in 2016.
“That’s how fast this is taking off,” says Shelton, a business attorney and owner of Shelton Law & Associates in Gold River. She launched SOS in 2015 as an initiative of her foundation Raising a Nation (RAN), which she also founded in 2015 to provide support to the Institute For Ministry Development (IMD) South Africa chapter, with which she got involved through a member of her church, Lakeside, Folsom.
“I was asked by the IMD to go to Bad Se Loop to speak at a conference and I learned about what they were doing and I decided to start a foundation to support them,” Shelton said.
IMD International is headquartered in Denver and has chapters around the globe. IMD, South Africa, under the direction of Koos Basson and his wife, Jenny, is amidst building ministries in the townships near Mokipane, which will offer educational classes, as well as vocational and goal setting workshops, weekend camps and other resources for youth ages fourth grade and up to 30.
“The goal is to help these people learn about how their government works, how to advance their skills and better their lives,” Shelton says. “You have to think about South Africa, or villages and farms outside of the major cities, as just coming out of a third-world scenario,” she adds. “It has only been just a little over a couple of decades since the end of Apartheid and they don’t have the kind of access to governmental information and education that we have.”
An older, South African woman and farmworker was introduced to Shelton on that trip and, when it was learned she’d been suffering from severe pain a little investigation proved the culprit to be the size of the woman’s bra.
“When she bent over she’d wince in this terrible pain,” says Shelton. “We learned that she’d been wearing a bra that was way too small for her. But that’s how it is there. If you can get the money for a bra, you’re lucky. These women often can’t even afford one, let alone get their hands on the size they need because the sizes available to them are limited.”
With Raising a Nation barely off the ground, Shelton decided to launch its first initiative, Support Our Sisters™, with a mission to bring donated bras to these women. And it turns out there is a lot of support out there for the cause.
“These women have little money and they are often living in the kind of bunkers you’d associate with plantations or farms of the south decades ago,” Shelton says. “Also, because a lot of these women are mothers who have had several children, they are very well-endowed. Our largest size was a 54 DDD. The smallest was 28DDD.”
SOS accepts new and gently used maternity and sports bras, as well as regular ladies bras. There is a high demand for sizes 32, 34 and 36 B or larger, Shelton said.
SOS had hoped to use a cargo liner for the 2017 shipment of bras, but that plan was derailed when the tanker hit a snag that would delay it for weeks. Shipping the bras via air is not cheap: Emirates charges $175 for each suitcase, but offers SOS a discounted price of $158 and donates the full cost of carrying five suitcases.
Sheryl Smith, a broker and owner of Smith Real Estate Services, Inc., also in Gold River, got involved through the same congregation. She serves as treasure for SOS. She says the growth of the initiative is supported by pure, grass roots energy.
“This is very close to my heart,” says Smith. “I’ve always been drawn to helping women in crisis of some kind, so I love what I’m doing. And by no means are we doing this alone. It’s a pure grass roots effort. I’m even calling up my clients and saying ‘Hey, I’m doing this. Would you like to be involved?’ And they are all in.’
Some are jumping in via the SOS Facebook page, coming on board to help with little or no connection to the group but the simple urge to help. And, it’s not just women.
“We had a male donor find us on Facebook who asked us what we needed,” says Smith. “We said we needed money to ship the bras overseas on the plane. He asked how much. We told him and he just said ‘done.’”
Employees at Harrah’s Casino in Reno took up a collected and recently donated 100 bras to the cause and family and friends of SOS volunteers are making donations from as far away as Kansas.
SOS has also donated bras to local groups helping women in need, including 75 bras to WEAVE, a provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking in Sacramento County, and the Twin Lakes Food Bank.
For more information, call Sheryl Smith, (916) 472-0103, or visit www.raisinganations.org