The UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) Women’s Centre is taking advantage of the hype surrounding Valentine’s Day by holding its fourth annual panty drive until Feb. 10. The Women’s Centre, located in the Student Union Building (SUB) room B107, is accepting donations of new panties, feminine hygiene products and chocolates for women in need. All donated items will go to the PEERS Victoria Resource Society and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver.
“We start collecting donations a few weeks before Valentine’s Day to connect the occasion with feeling good about yourself and supporting the community,” says Jen Storey, the UVSS Women’s Centre representative who sits on the UVSS board.
The event aims to support women who are socially and economically vulnerable in our community. For them, personal items like underwear are often considered luxuries.
Thea Cunningham is the night outreach co-ordinator for PEERS, a society that supports people who are or have been sex workers. Years ago, Cunningham herself was a client who used PEERS services. “When you’re out on the street, things like underwear . . . to have a clean pair means a lot to you,” says Cunningham. “When I walked into PEERS in 2004, I didn’t even have underwear. I didn’t have a bra or socks. I can relate to how wonderful it is to get a clean pair.”
Cunningham says the first time she handed out the donations three years ago, “some women had tears in their eyes.”
Sindy Angel, volunteer co-ordinator for the UVSS Women’s Centre, says, “The panty drive creates awareness that these people are there and that there are some community services that support these women. This is just a little step we can do to support another supporter. I feel like it’s a chain.”
UVic Women’s Studies professor Christine Welsh originally started the panty drive in 2005 while making her documentary Finding Dawn about missing women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The UVSS Women’s Centre began organizing the event in 2009.
“The event relieves the burden of providing services in an economy where social programs are getting cut consistently,” says Storey. “If [PEERS and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre] don’t have to spend money on things like bras and underwear, they can provide services.
“A lot of the time, social programs are based on what people need, and provide a minimum level of services. To provide things a little above and beyond makes people in the communities feel good. And who doesn’t like chocolate?” adds Storey.
Cunningham says little efforts like new panties and chocolates give hope to women on the streets.
“Life is wonderful when you have hope. People don’t want to live that lifestyle. Everyone has a story. All it takes is a few moments of someone’s time to donate some underwear, some chocolates, just to make someone feel good about themselves,” says Cunningham, who has seen more support for PEERS from the awareness that the panty drive brings.
Storey says the UVSS Women’s Centre works to support organizations in the community because UVic is a part of that community.
“I think sometimes there’s a divide between UVic and the community, and I don’t think that necessarily creates the best environment,” says Storey.
Last year, the panty drive collected roughly $400 in donations, according to Storey. “The drive was very well supported by other advocacy groups and individuals as well,” she says.
When donations get dropped off at PEERS, its staff then distributes them from their office in Esquimalt during the daytime and from their RV, which gets parked at the intersection of Discovery Street and Government Street, as well as the Rock Bay area, at night.
While they did not count the number of donations received in the last two years, Jodi Beniuk, another active UVSS Women’s Centre collective member, says that in 2010, the UVSS Women’s Centre donated 243 panties, 705 sanitary feminine products and 8 467 grams of chocolate to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre. Those numbers don’t include PEERS donations.
People can drop off donated items at the UVSS Women’s Centre, at the Women’s Studies reading room in Clearihue B115 and at Camas Books & Infoshop (2620 Quadra Street). People can also donate cash, or have their donations picked up, by contacting 250-884-8551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.