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'Bras For A Cause' Raises Funds for Cancer Immunotherapy Research

December 19, 2013 | Matthew Tontonoz

One featured a pair of spotted Dalmatian heads with dog tags dangling. Another sported two spooky beehives swarming with bees called, appropriately, “Boo! Bees.” A third was a patriotic camo-colored number called “Bombshells,” complete with American flags, military helicopters, and a strategically placed grenade. 

These eye-catching creations were all on display at this year’s “Bras for a Cause” event, organized in support of the Cancer Research Institute (CRI).

Each year, Penny Bolton, of Penny’s Boutique—a women’s clothing store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee—hosts the event to raise money for cancer research. Contestants create a one-of-kind bra and then fans vote for their favorite. It costs $1 to vote. Winners are announced at a fancy party, which also hosts a live auction.

Now in its 6th year, the event has grown from a petite affair to a hefty fundraising event that draws designers from across the country. This year’s event raised more than $31,000, all of which goes to support CRI’s mission of developing immunotherapies for cancer.

Bolton says she got the idea for the event from a friend who organizes a similar event for another charity. Bolton ran with the idea, expanded it, and, she says, “it’s just grown and grown and grown over the years.”

The first year the proceeds went to support research on breast cancer. Since 2009, the money has gone to CRI. Bolton says she decided to support CRI after doing some online research on Charity Navigator, which rates nonprofits based on financial transparency, program growth, operational efficiency, and impact. CRI holds the highest rating of four stars. 

“When I went through all the charities I felt that CRI was doing what I wanted done, where the majority of the money was spent for research.”

She also liked the fact that CRI was doing research that benefits all types of cancer. “After giving it some thought,” she says, “I thought I really just can’t turn my back on anybody. So I really wanted it to fund research for all types of cancers, not just for breast cancer, even though we decorate bras. Cancer’s bad no matter who gets the diagnosis.”

Many of the bra designers are inspired by having a personal connection to cancer. This year’s winning bra—an exquisite sequined number called “Ballroom Beauty” with tiny shimmering disco balls—was created by Becky Lanham in memory of her friend Gail Hayaux, who passed away last year from lung cancer. The runner-up bra was called “Go Gold,” and was made entirely of gold ribbons; it was created by Lori Hoyt to raise awareness of childhood cancer. 
Other bra designers just seem to enjoy doing something fun and creative in support of a good cause. An example: the “Johnny Cash Bra,” jamming with tiny guitars, pins of the musician’s face, and a ring of fire flickering at the top. 

The party was a festive affair, with an Academy Awards-style photo backdrop—“for a little piece of Hollywood,” Bolton says—a tasty spread of food catered by Murfreesboro-based Maple Street Grill, wine and spirits by Stones River Beverages, and free desserts donated by Julia’s Bakery. Naturally, there was a cake in the shape of a big pink polka dotted brassiere.

Additional sponsors for the event included the Comprehensive Breast Center, MidSouth Bank, Cynthia Jones Photography, Rick Ross DJ, Thompson Plumbing, Galaxie Agency, Murfreesboro Magazine, and Budweiser.  

Besides the bra competition and the auction, Bolton says there are also calendars for sale, the proceeds of which will benefit CRI. Each month of the calendar features a different bra.

To purchase a calendar or to find out more about Bras for a Cause, visit their Facebook page.


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