PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The time-old tradition of women showing some skin for Mardi Gras beads is taking on a new meaning at the H.E.R Shelter.
“In Mardi Gras, one of things that is commonplace down there is for women to expose themselves for colorful beads, and we are doing the opposite; we are trying to cover up,” said Deborah Apperson, the Community Engagement Manager at the H.E.R Shelter.
In a collection drive that’s being called "Mardi Bras," the H.E.R Shelter is asking the community to donate new bras, underwear and feminine hygiene products for its domestic violence survivors.
One in three women is a victim, and survivors often escape their abusers with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“Certainly, when you’re planning your escape, taking bras and underwear are probably not on the top of your priority list of things to grab as you’re leaving the house,” Apperson said.
Shelters saw a drastic increase in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people stayed home and financial stress and isolation took a toll.
According to Apperson, the number of victims has now leveled off but they’re expecting another rise in the need for help as the economy begins to fully reopen.
“A lot of women come in with very little money in their bank accounts; often times their abusers have kept them from money,” said Apperson. “We provide them with financial counseling. We provide them with opportunities to learn how to build a resume and to get some job skills. We provide mental health counseling for those who come in and who have experienced trauma, and we provide court advocacy.”
To help survivors get a fresh start, you can shop H.E.R Shelter’s Amazon wish list and have items delivered directly to the shelter. You can make an online donation, or mail a gift to P.O. Box 2187, Portsmouth, Va. 23702. You can also drop a new undergarment off in person on Feb. 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1900 Columbus Ave. in Portsmouth.
The last day of Mardi Bras is Feb. 16, the same day as Mardi Gras.
“We’re hoping to collect items to give our clients a foundation to their wardrobe so they can begin to start their new life,” Apperson said.
The H.E.R Shelter is currently not accepting clothing donations because of the pandemic, but they are asking churches, businesses or organizations to join them in setting up a collection box for Mardi Bras.