The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign has kicked off its fifth annual drive with a goal to collect 12,000 purses and backpacks for women and youth in shelters and crisis centres across the country.
“The need continues to grow, along with the number of people who are joining the campaign and sending a message of caring and hope to women and young people in need,” said campaign founder Angel Freedman at the launch of the Newmarket-Aurora campaign Sunday in Aurora.
The campaign began in Newmarket and surrounding York Region communities in 2014 with a modest collection of 1,500 new and gently used purses filled with personal necessities being donated to a few shelters across the Greater Toronto Area.
The drive has grown every year since, with more than 10,000 purses collected across the province and in campaigns springing up in communities across Canada and around the globe last year.
“Most of us take our purses everywhere with us, but most women in shelters don’t have a purse,” said Freedman, a Stouffville-based social worker. “The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign not only provides women and youth a purse or backpack to call their own, but also the gift of dignity.”
“Often, women who come to the shelter don’t have anything — they are fleeing for their lives,” said Brooke Bailey, resource development and York Region Violence Against Women coordinator for Yellow Brick House, a shelter for abused women and children in Aurora serving York Region.
“The items that we receive from this campaign go straight to those women to help them rebuild their lives,” she said at the event hosted by Newmarket-Aurora campaign community lead Lynnette Sadowski.
The gift of the purse — and seeing the care and thoughtfulness that went into filling it with necessities and “little comforts that we take for granted” — can help boost the confidence of a woman at the shelter, she added.
Another local recipient, the Women’s Centre of York Region, has a waiting list of clients wishing to receive the purses, said Liora Sobel, executive director of the Newmarket-based non-profit agency that empowers women through life transitions with programs and services.
“Imagine starting a new job and not having a purse to put your wallet in. That’s literally the reality of the women who come to our centre,” she said.
“The women know how special the campaign is,” Sobel added. “Please know everything you give has really helped and is making a huge difference.”
While the purses are filled with practical items, from tissues to tampons, and the usual essentials, from lip balm and gum to gift cards and hair clips, Sobel said the heartfelt personal note many donors also include is particularly appreciated.
“All the items you put in the purse are very much needed and very much used, but I will tell you, the special little touch of adding a note to the purse telling a woman you care and you personally want her to have something nice goes a long way,” Sobel said to the donors at the launch event.
“All of the women will come back and say, ‘Can you believe it? Someone actually wrote a note and acknowledged me.’”
“I’m overwhelmed with how many women came out to support the launch of the Newmarket-Aurora Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign,” said Sadowski. “There were tons of donations, love and learning.”
“It’s such a simple thing that makes a difference,” she added.
Women from across the region attended the event, from Bradford to Richmond Hill, many who said they were excited to be joining the movement for the first time.
“It’s a wonderful way to get involved in your community, and to pay it forward,” said Maggie Thornton of Aurora, for her first campaign.
Stouffville resident Pam McLellan donated a box of 50 purses, ready to be filled, to help kick off the local campaign.
“I feel it’s important, everybody needs a purse — and to feel special,” she said.
Freedman, along with the community lead volunteers, are connecting daily with individuals, community organizations, schools and businesses from across the province who want to get involved.
Newmarket was one of the original communities to host a campaign, with purses and backpacks soon being donated across York Region — Aurora, Mount Albert, Sharon, Markham, Stouffville, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, Zephyr and Keswick.
Other towns and cities joining the campaign include Bradford, Innisfill, Barrie, Uxbridge, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Orillia, Whitby, Toronto, North York, Burlington, Oshawa, Ajax, Pickering, Thornton, Montreal, Ottawa and Sudbury, to name a few.
The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign is also currently seeking support for its initiative to become a registered charity able to provide tax receipts, in response to requests from businesses, in particular, wishing to support the growing movement with donations of items, as well as money. You can visit the GoFundMe page for more information.
Local businesses provide drop-off locations for the purses throughout the campaign, which runs to Dec. 1.
In Newmarket, you can drop off your purse and backpack donations at Still in Style Resale Boutique on Main Street.
To contribute to the campaign, simply fill a new or beloved gently used purse or backpack with toiletries, sanitary products and other personal items. Add your own special touch, such as a scarf, gloves, notebook or journal, or a gift card. You can host a Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign party or event to involve your family, friends, neighbours, colleagues or classmates.
For more information about how to get involved or to volunteer as a community lead, or where to drop off your donations in your community, visit Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign on Facebook or Instagram.
For the Newmarket-Aurora campaign, visit, here
Freedman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.