Calgarians asked to pack purses with hope, and donated essentials

The Pack a Purse for Hope campaign is back for its seventh year

By Leanne Murray | November 10, 2022 |5:00 am

Last year, a total of 244 purses were packed and donated through the Pack a Purse for Hope initiative.

Photo: Submitted

A Calgary woman is making a difference, one purse at a time.

Jennifer Donovan started the Pack a Purse for Hope campaign seven years ago.

The idea is for people to donate a gently used purse and fill it with essentials like toiletries and feminine hygiene products.

Donovan says a combination of things led to her starting the initiative.

“About 10 years ago, I was in a really bad car accident, myself and my son, and it just really showed me how fast your life can just turn around,” she says.

“After the accident, I started volunteering at the Mustard Seed and just getting a real reality check of how, right here in our city, there are so many people that are struggling.”

Packed purses are donated to the Mustard Seed and the Women’s Centre of Calgary.

Hanging on to faith and hope

Donovan struggled herself following the accident and says volunteering made her grateful for the things she has.

“Although I came close to losing it all, I didn’t, and with the help and support of family and friends, and really hanging on to faith and hope, I got myself back on my own feet physically and financially.”

One day, Donovan was doing some spring cleaning and came across purses she no longer used, along with unopened and unused toiletries.

“How many people are in the same position as me and probably have a bunch of things that are just sitting there and could go to good use?” Donovan wondered.

She decided to start the Pack a Purse for Hope campaign in honour of her father’s 70th birthday.

A small first step

The initiative started small, with about 50 purses packed and donated thanks to Donovan’s close circle of family and friends.

After a couple of years, Donovan posted about the campaign in Facebook community groups and it has continued to grow.

Last year, 244 purses were donated to the Mustard Seed and the Women’s Centre of Calgary.

“It’s kind of amazing once you just put your idea out there with love and optimism, what you can magnetize towards helping it be successful,” Donovan says.

“It just keeps growing every year so it’s just a phenomenal feeling. And it restores my own hope and faith in humanity.”

Angels on earth

Donovan commends the workers and volunteers with the Mustard Seed and Women’s Centre.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the volunteers there and they’re just amazing earth angels. I mean, this is one thing I do once a year, but they work for this cause every single day,” she says.

“I know for sure that [the purses] get into the hands of the people that really need them the most, and that’s just the most important thing.”

Donovan says a nicer purse, hairbrush, or new lipstick can provide a much-needed self-confidence boost for those who are trying to get back on their feet.

“Those little things that we take for granted every single day that might just help that person have the confidence and the drive to just go out there and try to rebuild their life.”

The campaign has become a Christmas tradition for Donovan.

A Christmas tradition

The Pack a Purse for Hope campaign has become a Christmas tradition for Donovan and her 17-year-old son.

“Every single year he’s helping cart the purses, pack the purses, and deliver them and so it’s just a beautiful family tradition, too. Because Christmas isn’t just about receiving, right? That’s really important for everybody to reflect on,” she says.

Donovan runs Dreams & Discoveries Preschool and also involves the children in the campaign.

She gets emotional reflecting on the love and compassion that goes into packing each handbag.

“I’ve had women sit down and write a woman that they don’t even know a letter, like a letter of encouragement,” Donovan says.

“It’s so amazing. They put their heart and thought into every purse.”

More needed than ever

Donovan believes the Pack a Purse for Hope campaign is needed now more than ever.

Filled purses can be dropped off until Dec. 3 at The Hidden Gem locations in Kensington and Okotoks or Viet Thai Bistro on McIvor Boulevard.

Any businesses that are interested in being a drop-off location can reach out to Donovan, and the purses will be brought to the Mustard Seed and Women’s Centre before Christmas Eve.

The most-needed items that can be packed into the purses include shampoo, deodorant, soap, feminine hygiene products, hairbrush, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, hat, gloves, scarf, new socks and underwear, used books, earplugs, earbuds, plastic travel tumbler, small flashlight, deck of cards, nail clippers, travel-size tissue packs, bandages, and new or gently used clothing.

Items to avoid include used toiletries, hand sanitizer, colognes, perfumes, or chocolate.

Donations without a purse are also more than welcome.

A similar initiative called Purses of Hope will launch its 11th annual campaign on Nov. 14 and WINS’ Handbags with Heart runs until Dec. 5.

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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