My team and I get asked frequently what it’s like to be a collection point. And sometimes, visitors will drop off kits and be surprised because it looks a little different from their expectations. So, my team and I put together the following article. We’ve been working on this for a few months. Our goal was to get the main ideas of what being a collection point means to us and not tell the entire story. We hope that you will follow our Instagram @dfg_pgh and Like our Facebook page to get the updates with pictures of the work we are doing now.
“Days for Girls USA Collection Points: These are places where components, Kits and in-kind donations are gathered. As opportunities arise, these contributions are assembled into Supreme DfG Kits and sent out for distribution.” (USA Collection Point email January 24, 2022)
The Pittsburgh Chapter organized in 2015 and became a collection point in August of 2019. Each year our team has changed, but what remains the same is the sense that the right people arrive when we need them. Our team is small. 6-10 people who on average work together weekly. I have two co-leaders and a few others that help me make management decisions. I rely on this small group to lead other volunteers in bigger events.
Becoming a collection point has shaped the way we work in our own group and work with others. We communicate with the teams geographically closest to us to help support the large humanitarian projects. We have weekly zoom meetings and use Facebook, Instagram, email, and other messaging aps to keep in touch. And sometimes, I’m sure that our hearts are connected, too. So, this small chapter is more than ten teams strong, and we are growing. Being a collection point works so well for us because of the vision we have for leadership and teamwork. Each web-like connection makes us stronger and closer. Having these larger connections gives us a community with which to share our excitement of a new project, and the eagerness of each person to pitch in makes it possible. In the difficult moments when we get cranky and whiny, we support one another. The joy (and relief) when a project is all packaged and ready to ship is a huge celebration. I’m glad to be working with this amazing group of volunteers.
Along with the bigger teams, smaller teams of one or two sewists send components in small batches of one or two components at a time and don’t feel pressure to send complete kits or varieties of fabric. Often these small packages come in regular intervals with the sweetest notes of thanks for the work we do. Their quality components are mixed in with others to give the kit receivers a variety of colors and patterns.
As the leader of the Pittsburgh collection point, I have the privilege of working with my team, other team/chapter leaders, and the DfG International staff. I am surrounded by inspiring people. I’m also surrounded by less-than-inspiring tasks. I have extra zoom meetings, emails, spreadsheets, and the logistics of sorting people, components, and kits to get the shipment ready to leave in a timely manner. Some days it feels like my phone never stops vibrating, and someone is always calling my name. I try to remind myself that I don’t work for Amazon, that I’m allowed to rest and recover and pay attention to my body and soul. Some days are better than others for me (and for my team). The reality is that we’ve all made sacrifices to be a collection point. As exciting and joyful as it sometimes is, it is heartbreaking and frustrating, too. We sort, check, and repair more than we make new components. At this point, it’s considered a real treat to make something from start to finish. Being a collection point means we all must be willing to fix other people’s mistakes, and that often takes longer than sewing new gold standard components. There is a balance between fixing something to make it usable and setting aside something that will take too long to make fit for purpose for the current project. We are learning to sort components into groups: good to use, fixable, ok for local distributions or short-term use, and fabric that will need to be given to another charity to be up cycled into a quilt or other gifts.
Together we are learning how to have brave and vulnerable conversations about correcting mistakes when people ask us how their components met up with DfG standards. It is hard to tell someone they are not making the components correctly (or at least fit for purpose), but we must have these conversations to give quality components to the women and girls who need them. Having gentle but matter of fact conversations, using the quality checking tools, is the best way I’ve found to do this. We let the tools do most of the talking. Some people will have hurt feelings. But I would rather hurt feelings (temporarily) to make sure no one has unpleasant health ramifications or a kit that does not last. I have found that most people using the quality tools for the first time are disappointed in their work initially but feel empowered when they are shown how to make it better. And nearly all of those who have had that difficult but necessary conversation with me have become gold standard teams and dear friends. All of us want to help the person receiving the kit.
Finding an individual volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses is an important part of the quality control process, too. We always try to find a way for every person that volunteers with us to contribute in a way who is personally meaningful and beneficial to the team. Letting a volunteer do something that someone else will have to fix later is not helpful for anyone and will create toxic relationships. We want our volunteers to feel valued, and we want the person who will receive the components to feel that they have been given a gift. To that end, we emphasize quality and not quantity. We work slowly and carefully, resisting the urge to pump out components as quickly as possible. We are picky with a purpose. We (DfG International) must meet washable standards in multiple countries to continue sending kits and operating enterprises. And it isn’t just DfGI. Meeting washable standards are a part of global conversation about menstrual health with multiple organizations. DfGI wants to continue to be a leader in those global spaces.
Most importantly, we must remember a collection point is a place where items (and people) linger only temporarily. We hope this liminal space is a place where love meets needs, where quality and kindness are expressed in our relationships and our work, and where everyone is empowered to realize the gift that they are, just as they are. Every girl. Everywhere. Period.