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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bras for Charity Cause Storm in a D-Cup

Send back the canned stew. Forget the job training programs. A group of British dieters has decided that what Russians really need in the way of humanitarian aid are their used bras and panties, size extra-large.


June Macfarlane, a weight consultant at Slimming World in Darlington, England, dreamed up Knicker Aid as a way for female clients who no longer fill up their old lingerie to help Russian women, who -- she says -- covet Western underwear and are full-figured because of their starchy diets.


Knicker Aid has collected thousands of used bras and underpants and consulted the Russian Embassy in London on how to distribute the precious panties without causing a riot, Reuters reported. But a top Russian aid official in Moscow was quick to look this particular gift horse in the mouth.


"That is a disgrace, that kind of proposal," said Nikolai Anisimov, who oversees aid distribution at the Russian Commission for Humanitarian Assistance. "It is insulting to Russian women. Here in Russia we burn second-hand underwear."


While foreign aid to Russia occasionally strikes a big hit with the public, as did the 1991 shipments of hefty American chicken drumsticks that many Russians still remember fondly as "Bush's legs," Knicker Aid's gift is not the first to raise eyebrows -- or hackles.


Back in 1992, Dr. Yury Pavlov of Moscow Children's Hospital No. 7 found himself the proud recipient of 150,000 Japanese condoms in a broad palette of colors, which he tried in vain to trade for bandages.


"Finally I just gave them to my staff," he told the Los Angeles Times shortly afterward.


Salvation Army workers during the same period complained of having to pass out foreign-donated shoe polish and solid deodorant to refugees who had no idea what to do with them.


More serious problems arose with the delivery of spoiled food and medicines which had passed their expiration date or lacked proper labelling and instructions.


Anisimov said that he often receives letters from individual German or British women, "who think we have absolutely nothing here," offering the last few tablets in a bottle of prescription pills.


"Of course, we must refuse those proposals," he said in an interview Friday, calling them "shameful."


Even large-scale foreign aid is a sensitive political issue in Russia, which is struggling to retain its status as a great power. Foreign donors, whether governments, individuals, or charity organizations, often exacerbate the problem of wounded pride, charity workers say.


"British women regularly suggest donating their underwear -- they're just convinced there's no underwear here," said a Russian-born Briton who runs a charity program in Moscow. "They're always asking where they can deposit their used bras. I suggested the dustbin."


The charity worker, who asked that neither she nor her organization be named, said that many foreigners propose unneeded, counterproductive or just plain offensive aid programs "out of naivete and total ignorance of Russian life," albeit often "with a kind of pure heart."


"People want to import democracy in a plastic bag," she said.


Some would-be donors are simply uninformed, she said, like the "lovely old grandmother" from Britain who wanted to buy a piece of land to build a hospital, not realizing that foreign land ownership is forbidden and land control a vicious point of contention.


Some foreign organizations receive funding but end up closing because they fail to anticipate the difficulties of fundraising in a country without a philanthropic tradition, and focus too much on gift aid instead of training people to help themselves, she said.