For most women, it’s hard to imagine leaving the house without your purse.
But when your life is in danger, your purse may be the last item on your mind – especially if there are children involved. It’s a level of desperation that can be difficult to fathom. And yet it’s the unfortunate reality for many.
In 2017/2018, shelters for victims of abuse saw over 68,000 admissions across Canada, 60% of which were women, according to Statistics Canada. Over the last five years, Stouffville-based social worker Angel Freedman has been working hard to ensure each of these women has a purse to call her own.
When the founder of Angel’s Garage, an organization that distributes used clothing to people in need, spearheaded the Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign in 2015, it was an instant success. After learning about
a similar project in Texas, Freedman immediately launched a Facebook page and went on to collect 1,500 purses from her living room.
The campaign nearly doubled year over year, and has since expanded to reach 72 towns and cities across Canada. Last year, an astonishing 10,000 purses were donated and this year Freedman aspires to collect a grand total of 12,000.
Each purse is filled with the necessities most of us take for granted every day, from toiletries to tampons, lip balm to hair ties—before being hand delivered to women and youth shelters in the area. “It’s not just about giving them a purse, it’s about helping them keep their dignity in tact,” Freedman says.
Freedman is no stranger to domestic violence. As a young girl, she witnessed her mother flee from home without a single possession to her name.
“I want to be the voice for women who don’t have one,” Freedman says. “When you’re in such trauma and crisis, you feel very lost and alone. You have nowhere to go. You think no one cares. But my mission is to let these women know that there are other women who care.”
As a passionate advocate for women in the shelter system, Freedman is determined to keep the conversation going. “I feel we talk about it, but we don’t really talk about it,” she says, referring to the way organizations and media outlets alike shy away from using the word ‘rape’. “We’re masking what’s going on.”
In her research, Freedman shares that 460,000 women are sexually assaulted every year in Canada. “That’s a big number,” she says. “Every six days in Canada a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. It’s astronomical.”
The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign is about making a difference for these women – by advocating for them and providing a purse they can call their own. “I don’t want them to think they’re invisible. We see them; we hear them,” says Freedman.
A lot of people choose to take the donation even further – in addition to filling the purse with necessities such as shampoo and conditioner, they include a personalized note, scarf or bracelet. And it’s not just purses either – backpacks were also added to the campaign following a request by local youth shelters.
The campaign runs from September to December, with community leads driving promotion and local businesses opting to be drop off locations. Still in Style on Main Street Newmarket has been a drop off location since it all began – last year, they collected 500 purses for the campaign.
People even host their own private gatherings in support of the cause – from birthday parties to wine and cheese celebrations. “The volunteers and community leads are the angels of it all,” Freedman says.
For more information on how to get involved or where to drop off donations in your community, visit Fill a Purse for A Sister Campaign on Facebook or Instagram.
Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign
Still in Style, Newmarket