Ask any mother: Clean underwear is important.

But while volunteering at the Operation Nightwatch shelter in 2015, Lewis & Clark College sophomores Paige Sanders and Ashley Garber were surprised to discover one of the biggest problems women living on the streets face is the lack of bras, underwear and tampons.

It's a huge deal: Bras usually cost anywhere between $15 and $60, while panties usually cost $4 to $6 a pair.

So Sanders and Garber found the time between classes to start the Portland Panty Project to distribute underwear to Portland's homeless women. The pair started a GoFundMe page, on which they raised $3,000 to buy bras and panties. Now they're a team of four women, all of whom either still attend Lewis & Clark or recently graduated, who supply bras and panties to five different homeless shelters across the city twice a month, including three run by Operation Nightwatch. They set up a private room where women or anyone identifying as a woman can come in one by one and pick out bras and underwear.

"People will ask for specific things, and we try to get that as much as possible," says Sanders. "After a couple distributions we were like, 'OK, we need 36Cs,' so you know what the ladies need from prior experience."

The PPP women keep huge bags of bras and panties in their garages and cars, and are supplied by regular donations from Walmart and local businesses like Oh Baby—which provides high-quality lingerie—and from continuous GoFundMe donations.

(Carleigh Oeth)
(Carleigh Oeth)

"It's so much harder for women on the streets than it is for men," says Natalie Cerda, who joined PPP this year. "It's so hard to find resources to get the stuff that they need. We hope we can help a little bit with that."