Women in disadvantaged communities are often short on life’s essentials including underwear, especially bras. In some places, parts of the Pacific included, these undergarments are often unobtainable or unaffordable but all around the world women are lending their support – literally! The Uplift Project collects new and second hand bras and sends them to communities in need both in New Zealand and abroad; Kate Hargraves has been a driving force behind the Auckland group for several years.
When did you become involved in this charity and why?
I loved everything about this project as soon as I became aware of it and I couldn’t wait to be involved. For me it’s perfect; women helping women, donated goods going to where there is a need and clothing, which may have ended up in landfills, having another life.
Where is the Auckland collection point based?
It all happens from my home in St Heliers; donations arrive almost daily by post, courier and personal delivery – sometimes even the husbands deliver the bras!
How are the bras distributed in New Zealand?
We like to care for girls and women in need anywhere so, any time we are asked for bras we are happy to supply them. Recently, this has been through churches and District Health Boards and I currently have two pilot schemes running in Auckland secondary schools. There is often a real need for bras for girls especially as girls without bras are reluctant to be involved in sports.
How many people work behind the local scenes? Are they all volunteers?
We have a couple of drop-off points around the wider Auckland area. We are all volunteers and work together as a team; we all have different roles. Most packing and distribution is done from my home. A good example of our team work would be my colleague, Vicki, who comes from the North Shore and helps with transportation and social media.
Are recipients embarrassed to be receiving second hand bras or are they just grateful to have ‘the support’?
We are careful to send only quality bras when they are ‘pre-loved’ and a lot of the bras donated clearly have seen little wear, the same with donated underwear. The women are so happy to see the bras – their smiles tell us what these mean to them. For some of these women an ‘Uplift’ bra might be the only one they will ever own.
How many bras do you receive, on average, in any one month?
It is hard to know the numbers as we receive a steady stream of donations. It varies too; we can have women in groups or work places run collections for us. Recently I received a one-off donation of more than 1000 bras which had been collected by a group. Packets of bras arrive daily; they could contain anything from one to 20 bras, so at month end we can have up to 1500 or more.
You also send bras to the Pacific Islands – where exactly, how often do you send shipments and what does this involve?
Mostly to the Pacific: Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. As often as we can but this is heavily dependent on what opportunities we can find to get bras there. We are always looking for help to send our products. Recently, the NZ Navy sent a one metre consignment for us to Samoa, which was a huge help. Air New Zealand also assists us with additional check in bags for travellers so they can take 23kg of bras to our contacts for distribution or directly to the villages. This kind of help is so appreciated.
We have excellent partners on the ground to receive goods; most are registered charities. We also travel quite frequently to destinations so we meet our partners and work closely with them in regards to distribution. Some bras will be taken to schools, some to hospitals, others to outreach programmes and some are given to women at the time of screening for breast cancer.
What kind of bras do you require and is there any size/cup preference?
We accept all bras but larger sizes are preferred – you could say the bigger the better. I have had women over the moon to receive a new bra when it is a size 22J! Sports bras are very popular. Where we can, we pack and send maternity bras directly to birthing units and hospitals.
Do you only send bras or other items too?
I love to send other items. I work closely with other charities and I value these relationships. The ‘Days for Girls’ organisation works closely with us making it possible to send sanitary pads via medical teams. The Lions organisation also supplies us with recycled reading and sunglasses. Sometimes I am given other items too, which is a delight. An example of this would be babies and children’s clothing, soap and, more recently, I was given 400 pairs of jandals. Fabulous!
What does it cost to send a shipment of bras and where does the money for this come from?
We rely heavily on individuals and businesses to help us with freight by sharing their resources. We are always looking for new opportunities to send our goods. As a group we don’t have any money, so it is only what we donate ourselves.
If Kiwi women wish to donate bras, where do they send/take them and what about cash donations?
Items can be posted, couriered or delivered to me at: 5 Modena Crescent, St Heliers, Auckland 1071. Parcels can be left in the basket here or dropped in the letterbox or by the front door. We receive few donations – occasionally, we find a $5 note in with the bras and this always brings a cheer from the team. If there was a group or business that wanted to make a donation to us that would be amazing; it would enable us to do more and send more items to women in need.
If you could be Minister of Foreign Affairs for a Day what would you do first and why?
Easy – I would a find a way to list all of the organisations working across the Pacific and then put them in touch with each other. The power of knowing what they are each doing and how they could work together would be incredible.
If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner, who and why?
Prince Harry would be a charming addition to any dinner party so he’s a must. I would love to meet Oprah Winfrey, as I think she is beyond incredible, and I would invite David Attenborough, so I could shake his hand and thank him on behalf of the world for his incredible work.