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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

This South Side Woman Is Collecting New And Gently Used Bras To Help Trafficking Victims

The bras will go to Free the Girls, which helps survivors of human trafficking.

Elizabeth Chapman is collecting bras on behalf of Free The Girls, an organization working to end sex trafficking.
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AUBURN GRESHAM — A lifelong Auburn Gresham resident is collecting bras to help people who have survived trafficking.

Elizabeth Chapman, the organizer, is accepting new or gently used bras for her Free the Girls drive through Oct. 4. They can be dropped off at First Christian Church, 3600 W. 79th St.

Chapman’s been doing the bra drives for years — but her interest in helping survivors of human trafficking goes back to her childhood.

Chapman was in junior high when she learned about the horrors of human trafficking. She was at a Christian youth conference when she watched a documentary on the subject and immediately felt compelled to act.

“That’s how it started. I didn’t do a lot of stuff at first; I just supported different organizations,” Chapman said. “I would make sure to buy something from them, and that was how I contributed.”

The work came naturally. Years of volunteering at First Christian Church of Chicago — where Chapman’s father is an elder pastor — had prepared her. It was while organizing the church’s annual clothing swap that Chapman got the idea to host a bra drive.

“I was going through my own stuff, gathering things, and I came across a few of my old bras that were in good condition. Usually the organizer doesn’t know what to do with the bras we get. She didn’t really want to set them out,” Chapman said.

Chapman didn’t want to throw away the bras, so she looked online for ideas about how they could be reuses. There, she came across Free the Girls.

Free the Girls is an international organization that collects new or gently used bras, sending them to former sex trafficking victims to sell and providing a way out while teaching entrepreneurial skills.

“It was fate. Here’s something I’d been passionate about since I was 13. I have to do this,” said Chapman, a library assistant at the University of Chicago. “I talked to my dad about it, and he told me to make an announcement at the next Sunday service so we could get started right away.”

Despite the inaugural drive being advertised strictly through word of mouth, Chapman managed to collect 120 bras within weeks. The following year, a surprise mention in Ald. Derrick Curtis’ (18th) newsletter helped to spark community interest.

Things are a little different this year. Usually, Chapman would have the tie-in of the clothing swap to boost participation, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the church to cancel it.

Chapman’s extending the bra drive a few weeks longer than usual, hoping that will help her collect more items.

Since starting the drive last week, Chapman’s collected 21 bras from the donation box stationed outside of the church. She hopes to get even more than she did last year by the time the drive closes in October.

“I’m so used to do doing things in the background. I know a lot of people who believe that advocacy is marching in the street and screaming at the top of their lungs, which, we definitely need that,” Chapman said. “But we need people to do the mundane work, too.”

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