“It’s impossible to see these people every day and not want to help,” Headley said.
While working at the United Way Ottawa, Headley met many people who took advantage of their services and saw that many types of people are in need of some sort of help from the community.
“It’s not always the stereotypical man living in a cardboard box,” Headley said. “It could be someone who couch surfs and depends on shelters for a meal and clothing, someone who has lost everything because of problems with mental illness or substance abuse, or even your co-worker who fled an abusive relationship with her kids and is staying at a family shelter.”
The experience moved Headley to found the organization Underpants Up! in 2011. That year, Headley set the goal to collect 1017 pairs of underwear and donate them to women’s and men’s shelters in Ottawa. Headley wanted to collect more than 1000 pairs and picked an odd number to keep in her mind.
Why collect underwear?
“You can’t donate underwear like you can a sweater or a jacket,” Headley said. “Underwear is obviously a personal thing, so a lot of shelters are forced to buy [these] items with their own money, out of costs.”
So Headley decided to make it her mission to fill in this gap. After the success of her 2011 campaign, she decided to keep Underpants Up! going indefinitely through 2012 and beyond.
“The more I talked about the idea, I was just getting such great feedback and people were really excited about the idea because it was something different,” she said.
The impact of social media
Social media has played a big part in the success of Underpants Up!, connecting Headley to supporters, partners and events that have helped to spread the word and bring in donations. On December 10, comic book geek website Unreasonable Action hosted a trivia night which collected donations for Underpants Up!
“Having a presence on social media makes these connections much more effective, and makes it really easy to share the project,” Headley said, adding that the Underpants Up! logo is a results of an indirect connection she made to Vancouver designer Melanie Vautour through Twitter. The Underpants Up! Facebook fan page is also used to promote partnerships and events, such as the trivia night, that results in more donations for Ottawa shelters.
“There are many organizations in Ottawa that need support. I hope Underpants Up can help many, if not all of them,” she said. And Underpants Up! collects a lot more than underwear for these shelters; necessities like soap, socks, tampons and toothpaste are all being collected.
Underpants Up! also recently teamed with Ottawa soap-makers Purple Urchin to donate soaps and lotions to local women’s shelters this winter.
“Whether it’s Christmas, or the middle of April or the fall, you’re always going to need clean underwear, you’re always going to need toothbrush and toothpaste and soap. So that need never goes away.”
With partnerships in place, many events scheduled, and two years of gaining fans and supporters Underpants Up! is on pace to make a big impact in 2013.
“Now that we just keep it going, there’s no goal. It’s just always whenever there’s an opportunity to have an event or create some sort of partnership, we just go for it and do as much as we can.”
For more information about Underpants Up!, LIKE their Facebook page.