CHEYENNE, Wyo. — When a woman leaves a dangerous living situation, she likely will do so without a dime to her name, facing a possible custody battle and with no solid plan to build a future.
She also likely will bring nothing with her to a shelter.
Students in the Z-Club at Cheyenne’s Triumph High are doing their part to help through “purses with a purpose.”
Hannah Lipps, a junior at Triumph and president of Z-Club, said, “We’re collecting gently used purses from the community, and we’re going to fill them up with letters of encouragement, hygiene items, domestic violence numbers, pamphlets (and) things that they would possibly need.”
Those pamphlets will be for Safehouse Services, COMEA House, Legal Aid and other organizations.
The hygiene items can include travel-size shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, feminine hygiene products and other items a woman might not think to grab if she leaves her home in a hurry.
Nicole Casey, assistant director of Safehouse Services in Cheyenne, said, “When you leave everything you have and come into the shelter, you don’t have basic necessities.”
Safehouse Services is a nonprofit organization that helps victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and stalking.
Michelle Aldrich, Triumph’s Z-Club adviser, said, “They’ll be given out to homeless (female) veterans at the (Veterans Affairs Medical Center), they’ll be distributed through (COMEA House) and through Needs Inc., as well as through Safehouse.”
Casey is thrilled to hear about the letters of hope and encouragement, which could help keep up women’s spirits in times that might be the hardest of their lives.
“Survivors tend to hold onto something that keeps them going and makes them smile,” Casey said.
She added that the purse will work similarly.
“(The students) are handing them a bag to hold their tools, their inspiration, their necessities, and I think that is pretty wonderful,” she said. “They look at that inspiration every time they open their purse. They’re literally holding onto that.”
Building these care kits is not new for Z-Club at Triumph, but building them in purses is new. The members previously packed them in Ziploc bags.
“(Ziploc bags are) just really impersonal. It’s like having a foster child that carries all their belongings in a garbage bag,” Aldrich said.
Lipps said they’re also using purses because purses might be less likely to be searched by a spouse or partner in a domestic violence situation.
“It’s less noticeable for them. They wouldn’t necessarily rummage through their bag if it’s a purse instead of a Ziploc bag or something like that,” she said.
Community members who want to help with the project can bring their gently used purses to Triumph High through February.
“Most of us have more purses than we use, and we can spare one for a meaningful cause,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich already has a pile of them in her classroom. They’ve been donated by the Triumph High community and Zonta Club of Cheyenne.
The purses vary from large to small and leather to plastic. They’re black, white, fuchsia, teal and multi-colored. The only thing they have in common is that they’re all in good condition.
“We want them to be presentable (so) at least (the women) have nice-looking purses,” Lipps said.
Aldrich said they hope to distribute the purses by International Women’s Day on March 8.
She said they also collect toiletries all year to be added to the care kits or just distributed to agencies around town. She said the size from hotels is perfect.
“Especially if you have people who travel a lot, through the railroad or business — if they just happen to pick up the toiletries each day from their motel room that they don’t use, we will always find an outlet for those,” she said.
Casey said the Z-Club at Triumph could serve as a model for people across the country.
“‘Purses With a Purpose’ — that’s something that could really take off nationwide. I think it’s a truly amazing idea,” she said.
A variety of other programs exist in the U.S. and abroad that use the name “Purses With a Purpose” or “Handbags for Hope.” Many of them are auctions or sales of purses in which proceeds will benefit charitable organizations. However, the idea to create care kits in purses seems to be an underutilized opportunity.
Aldrich said the project also could benefit men. “There are men who carry handbags as well. And there are men who use fanny packs.” She said if they receive bags for men, they’ll fill those with men’s products and donate them, too.
Aldrich said the project is a great way for her students to give back to the community and raise awareness.
“‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ That could be any of us in that situation,” she said.
She added that the project teaches everyone that they have the power to create change and make a difference.
Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com