I took notes as Micha gave directions, “Get size 90, 95, 100 or higher.”
How do European bra sizes work? This was confusing. In the States, bra sizes range from the 30s to the 40s.
“Buy boring bras: white with full coverage. Try to get as many over 105 as you can. Bonus if you can get 110.”
I didn’t know where the mall was. I didn’t know how to figure out the sizes. I was afraid I’d overspend and have to make up the difference.
The Free Shop where I am volunteering in Krakow, Poland serves Ukrainian refugees fleeing war and is run by an NGO out of Norway called A Drop in the Bucket, or Drapen I Havet.
Beneficiaries must have a stamped passport to enter our shop. If they have the stamp that they are fleeing war, they can enter.
The refugees need everything: food, shelter and clothing. (Other programs offer the food and shelter.) My program runs a free shop where beneficiaries can come one day each week and go home with as many items as they want – for free. Most of the items are donated by Polish people. Some items are donated by businesses.
We always need more shoes. Some are donated, but there are never enough. People send in money donations and we go to the store to buy shoes. A $2,000 order of shoes lasts roughly six hours: at the end of the day we are out of shoes, again.
If you have children you know how difficult it is to keep them in shoes, with their sizes changing every few months. We always need more children's shoes.
Now you understand why children not having enough toys to play with or art supplies to create with are not top priorities. Yesterday a teenaged girl asked if we have any books in English.
No. We don't.
I asked her to ask each week when she returns because I would find her books, but she said they live far from the shop and will not return again.
Oh, a girl wants a book and I can't give it to her.
I think about how children back home love to get new shoes for the new school year. Here they need any shoe to fit their child's growing feet.
It's a difficult situation.
Bras and underwear are also difficult to keep in the shop. We only give out new underwear. The need is greater than our budget, so we rely on donations to help give the beneficiaries what they need.
Each woman can get a one time gift of 5 pair of underwear, 5 socks and 2 bras. We keep track of each gift on the computer. If there aren’t enough donations in the right size, the beneficiaries must return again and again and hope for the right size.
My friend Washington who left today to head home had a $550 donation to be spent for bras. Teresa, a volunteer who helped me shop, was donating $200 of her own money.
We had enough money to buy 70 bras.
Teresa and I got an Uber to the mall and found our way to the bra section of a department store. We picked up a tag on a bra and read it carefully. Size 110. Price 50 zloty ($10).
We bought every bra they had in sizes 90 on up. It’s an amazing feeling to know you are buying the things people need most.
Tomorrow we would watch women’s excitement as we finally had the sizes they needed.
We returned to the shop and I began sorting the bras into bins for each size.
I took all of the bras sized 105, removed the hangers and placed them in the correct bin.
After a few minutes one of the volunteers who only speaks Ukrainian said something to me.
I listened carefully. We both knew I couldn’t understand her.
She pointed to the size 95 and wagged her finger back and forth: "No."
She pointed to the smaller number on the tag, 80 and gave a thumbs up.
I had no idea what she was trying to tell me.
Micha came to explain.
The large number on the tag is not the correct size for Poland. It is the correct size for France, Spain and Portugal.
The smaller size is for Poland, Romania and Hungry.
The bra that I thought was a size 95 was a size 80.
So rather than buying large bras, we bought more of the sizes we already had.
Sure, we’ll still use them…
but they’re not what we needed most.
(***Thank you Iryna for the photo of me sorting bras. I love working with you and your big, big heart.)
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