Video & interview from Ink’n'Undies
Take a minute to think about the underwear you have on. Think about all it’s done for you, those endless wash cycles and bean burritos. Very few people will see your underwear (unless you are of the mall-crawling crowd that belts up around the lower thigh, in which case you might be considered an underwear activist here), but for one particular group of people, the challenge goes beyond ‘boxers or briefs.’
When Helen Huang told her friends and relatives about starting a non-profit to provide underwear — just underwear — to the homeless, they mostly laughed. When she bought the idea to homeless shelters, they said please.
“It’s not just what you see,” Huang says regarding homelessness. To people struggling to pick themselves up, getting a bra that fits is just as much a hurdle as having an address to fill in on job applications. Women who escape domestic violence situations often don’t have time to pack their underwear. Then there are the babies. “Can I just talk about the homeless babies?” She pipes up during our interview. “Homeless children need new diapers, and pull-ups to be toilet-trained.”
Any parent can attest to how crucial those are.
So with that, Huang founded Undershare, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that relies exclusively on volunteers and donations to provide underwear to the homeless and distressed. They do drop-offs (simple: they just drop underwear off) at Los Angeles homeless shelters and sent undergarments to Louisiana when Katrina landed. Their latest project also involved underwear, but with flair: a skivvy fashion show fundraiser at the Ecco Lounge. Modeled by the Suicide Girls, a punk-rock-flavored girls club that threw all body shapes, tattoos and piercings on a runway, Ink’n'Undies had drawn a full house before 9pm. Clothes, or underwear rather, were provided by Seven ’til Midnight.
Organizations like hers, Huang says, aren’t solving the problem of homelessness. “We’re lending compassion and dignity.” In the end, she’s just trying to get some money for new undergarments. “And the people who laughed at me at first,” she adds, “they’ve all come and donated underwear.”