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Soma Intimates fights domestic violence

Washington Square Mall boutique donates 400 bras to Yolanda House


Giving is beautiful.

That’s the message of Soma Intimates, an intimate apparel company that strives to create soft, sexy lingerie and loungewear to make women feel both comfortable and beautiful underneath.

Soma’s fifth annual “Giving is Beautiful” bra drive collected 103,355 donations nationwide from July 9 to Aug. 12, reaching a grand total of more than 368,000 bras from its five years of the event combined.

This year Soma joined forces with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), an organization that represents more than 2,000 shelter programs across 56 statewide and territorial coalitions throughout the U.S., and together carried on the mission of supporting victims of domestic violence by distributing bras to the many shelters that house survivors.

“A bra is one of the least donated, but most in-demand items for women in need,” stated Laurie Van Brunt, president of Soma Intimates, in a press release. “When we learned that there are thousands of women going without an item that most of us consider part of our daily routine, we knew we had to do something.”

The partnership, which began in January, brought excitement to NNEDV vice president of development and innovation Cindy Southworth.

“I love the fact that there are signs up in all the Soma boutiques all over the country talking about the partnership, putting information about domestic violence up in dressing rooms and at the cash registers,” she said. “You never know who might be shopping — someone’s friend, someone’s sister (or) a victim’s mother. You never know who might be helped or impacted.”

Southworth, who joined the organization in 2002, was inspired to get involved in the issue of domestic violence during college.

“I started volunteering when I was in college 20 years ago at a local domestic violence shelter and was so in love with the work,” she said. “It’s just the most amazing privilege to spend my days working to end domestic violence against women and trying to create a work with social justice.”

Prior to the bra drive, NNEDV coordinated the match of each Soma store to a local shelter located closest to the shop.

“When the bras are brought in to a boutique, that boutique then delivers them directly to the shelter or the shelter comes and picks them up at a confidential location,” Southworth said.

Yolanda House at the YWCA of Greater Portland, serving as a sanctuary for victims of domestic violence, received nearly 400 bras on Aug. 20 from the Tigard Soma shop in the Washington Square Mall, said Yolanda House program manager Patricia Martin.

“Soma was wonderful to us,” Martin said. “And I really appreciate what they did.”

Being one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations, YWCA commits “to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all,” Martin said.

Yolanda House was named in honor of YWCA employee Yolanda Panek, who was murdered on July 13, 1995, by her ex-boyfriend in front of her 2-year-old son.

The program adopted her name as a way of commemorating her and bearing in mind her tragic story that left numerous people in the community devastated.

It is currently serving 10 adult women and can take in between six to 20 children.

Due to its limited space, Martin said the shelter is always full, forcing the staff to turn away people daily and refer them to other resources.

Seven regular staff members and five on-call employees work to assist the residents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A 24-hour crisis line is also made available.

“We’re a confidential location, and we do everything that we can to protect the identity of our residents and to help all survivors,” Martin said.

Aside from supplying a safe place to stay, food and hygienic products, women residing in Yolanda House benefit from clothing donations, which are stored in a clothing closet.

“We have a clothing closet that the ladies can go in any time and pick whatever they want for free,” Martin said. “We have a volunteer who comes in and takes care of the clothing closet and tries to make sure that we have all sizes available at all times.

“Our residents come and go all the time. They come in at different times, (and) they all leave at different times so it’s never like a free-for-all.”

Yolanda House relies on the generosity of the people within the community despite receiving county and state funds. A group of volunteers called Friends of Yolanda also helps out by putting on fundraising events.

With the small area the shelter maintains for clothing, the program doesn’t take donations all the time. If people want to donate, they can call the YWCA main line to be put in touch with one of Martin’s advocates to see if the shelter needs a particular item at that time, Martin said.

The most needed items are the ones people use in everyday life such as shampoo, laundry soap, toilet paper, paper towels, deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Martin continuously looks for ways to improve the program’s domestic violence services, which includes applying for grants from various foundations.

As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Martin said her favorite part about being involved in the program is “the hope that I would be able to encourage someone to stay out of a domestic violence situation and live a healthy, happy life.”

“It was always my goal and my dream to help people move beyond domestic violence because I thought that if I could do it, anyone could do it,” she added. “So it’s always been my primary passion in life to have an impact on survivors of domestic violence. That’s just who I am.”