This Earth Day, Mount Saint Joseph Academy student Ilsa Maguire is looking for 250 slightly used bras for her bra drive (preferably sports bras) to keep the garments out of landfills. She and her mom will take the undergarments to Uganda for a second year this summer to give to young women in Uganda who often have only one or no bras. Donations can be dropped off at the Ambler-based Maguire’s Market or the Local’s office until their trip this August. (Photo by Jennifer Ehinger)

by Barbara Sherf

Ladies, it’s time to clean out the drawers and keep another bra out of a landfill to help a 15-year-old Mount Saint Joseph Academy student reach her goal of delivering a thousand brassieres to young women in Uganda this summer.

It all began when Ambler resident and high school student Ilsa Maguire watched as her mother, Jennifer Ehinger, got involved several years ago with a program to help people living in poverty in Cameroon. Ehinger, who runs a local title agency, then got involved in the group called Building a Bridge to Uganda and helped gather bath items to donate to Pope John Paul II High School. Maguire witnessed a change in her mom, and she wanted in.

Maguire wondered, “What can I do to change some lives in Africa?” and she started looking around her room at all of her stuff, taking a hard look at her collection of bras.

“I just started thinking of how many bras I have and how so many of them are hardly used, and I thought of my friends and other students I know who have bras they don’t use anymore,” said Maguire, who held a bra drive last year at her school.

She and her classmates collected more than 300 bras that Maguire and her mom hand-delivered to Africa last summer.

“It was an amazing experience,” Maguire enthused. “We brought two suitcases full of bras and the girls were so happy. It really made a different in their lives because a lot of these girls are athletic and active, and they now have confidence that they can present themselves without feeling embarrassed.”

This year, she set a goal of collecting 1,000 bras and she is three-quarters of the way there. Maguire noted that last year, a male teacher went out and purchased about a dozen bras and she was grateful for that. She feels, however, that slightly used bras that might otherwise go into a landfill are really what she is looking for from an environmental perspective.

“I want to focus on the fact that we have so many things lying around that we don’t really know what to do with, and women, it seems, don’t know what to do with slightly used or never worn bras,” said Maguire, who is also a rower for the school’s crew team. “Also, I’d like to get training bras to the younger girls in elementary school to help build their confidence early on.”

Ehinger says her daughter has been given the gift of inspiring others.

“She is bold, loud, funny and outcome-oriented,” Ehinger. said “When you combine that with her tremendous empathy, she truly has the ability to change the world. Right now, she is making life a little easier and much brighter for her sisters in Uganda. I could not be more proud of her and her friends for the impact they are making at such a young age.”

Maguire, who attended Wissahickon Middle School before applying to and receiving a partial academic scholarship to the Mount, noted that teens her age are often portrayed badly in the media.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the Mount because it’s given me the opportunity to be my best self. I think that in every generation, the media focuses on kids getting in trouble, and I hope I can turn that around a bit,” said Maguire, who added that Joe Maguire, her father, is her hero.

“He always pushed me the hardest to be my best. In a world full of helicopter parents, he always allowed me to follow my own path and interests.”

If she could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

“Sometimes when I see those heartstring-tugging commercials with the young sick kids in the hospitals on TV , I just wish I could trade places with those kids for a day so they could experience a normal childhood,” Maguire responded.

If she could have lunch with anyone living or dead, who would it be?

“It would be Gandhi. He really was a pioneer and trailblazer and someone I respect deeply,” Maguire said.

Given the current political climate, Maguire still feels optimistic about the future.

“I like to think that in the United States, we are about people coming together from different races and ethnicities, but it’s sad to see hate going out to people who are different,” Maguire said. “I think the biggest problem in our country right now is communication. I grew up in a world with a lot of changes, and I’m hoping to make some of my own.”

Bras will be collected at the Chestnut Hill Local until the end of the month and at her father’s Ambler specialty food store, Maguire’s Market, located at 875 W. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA 19002, during normal business hours.

For further information about donating bras, please email brasforgirls@gmail.com

Storyteller and communications specialist Barbara Sherf can be reached through her website or CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com

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