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Purse drive offers gift of dignity, style to women at risk

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Angel Freedman with some of her purses ANGEL FREEDMAN PHOTO

It’s not every day an at-risk woman gets a gift from an angel.

In December, though, more than 2,000 such women will get just that, in the form of a purse filled with gifts and necessities, through a campaign spearheaded by Angel Freedman, a Markham-based social worker and founder of Angel’s Garage, a charity that distributes used clothing to people in need.

For the second straight year, Freedman is organizing the “Fill a Purse for a Sister” drive, which in 2015 saw more than 1,500 purses collected and distributed to women in nine shelters: Sandgate Women’s Shelter, 360 Kids, North York Women’s Shelter, Yellow Brick House, Blue Door Shelter, Rose of Sharon (for pregnant teens), Women’s Support Network (a rape crisis centre), Women’s Centre of York Region, and the Aboriginal Biindigen Healing and Arts Centre.

The project came about in the fall of 2015, when one of Freedman’s friends read about a similar project in Texas. Freedman immediately knew she wanted – and needed – to do something similar in the GTA.

The next day, Freedman’s husband, Scott, went shopping for purses, small gifts, food and toiletry items to create a prototype of the purse so they could promote the idea, which went viral on Facebook.

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This year, Freedman has once again secured the Goulash House Hungarian restaurant in Newmarket for the Dec. 1 kickoff. It’s owned by Judit Szamosszegi, one of Freedman’s women’s business networking colleagues.

Szamosszegi will host a goulash party, with 10 per cent of proceeds from each bowl sold going to the campaign.

She was happy to help. “Giving to good causes makes the day brighter for everyone involved. I’m also a business owner, so I was happy to see returning customers to my restaurant after the purse drop.”

Last year’s event brought in enough purses to fill almost eight minivans and SUVs, all of which were then delivered to Freedman’s home – specifically, her garage.

It was the perfect extension of Angel’s Garage, Freedman’s 13-year-old “baby,” which distributes thousands of items of donated clothing, diapers, formula and other necessities to shelters, all from her own garage.

She puts out the word on social media, and literally hours after posting, hundreds of items are delivered to her door. Freedman personally brings the items to shelters every Sunday, meeting with front-line workers.

“When women leave their homes due to domestic violence, they leave with nothing,” she said.

Freedman has always been extremely community-oriented. She has chaired International Women’s Day in Richmond Hill and Markham for the past nine years, and she’s also known for directing the play The Vagina Monologues in Toronto and Markham. 

In her work, she sees women in distress, so the idea for Angel’s Garage came out of her desire to help them and others in need. “Most people have excessive amounts of clothing and want to help those less fortunate. However, they don’t want to put it in a [donation] box, since many of the collection agencies affiliated with the boxes actually sell the clothing to the shelters. They want to know that their items will reach those in need directly.”

So why purses?

“A nice purse helps give a woman a little bit of style and dignity. They know they can go to a job or apartment interview and present themself well. A gift like this, as opposed to just receiving money from a faceless person, is something that makes these women feel like someone in the community cares. There’s a loving peace to it…  It’s like saying, ‘Here, have something from our hearts.’”

The goal for this year’s “Fill a Purse for a Sister” campaign is to collect 2,000 purses, and Facebook groups are already abuzz with people wanting to help.

Southlake Hospital volunteers and staff in Newmarket are already collecting items, and volunteer seniors love filling the purses.

A Thornhill group has jumped on the bandwagon, as have Jewish women’s groups, women’s business networking circles and small businesses throughout North York and York Region. Along with purse donations, some groups are raising funds, while others are donating bulk supplies.

Donated purses should be new or in excellent used condition, and Freedman suggests filling them with $5 to $10 worth of new personal items such as coffee or pharmacy gift cards, flashlights, whistles, lip balm, hairbrushes, shampoo, winter outerwear, a wallet, gum, small food items, manicure sets, tissues, pens, books, soap, socks, slippers, or anything else a woman at risk might appreciate. 

For further information on drop-off locations in the GTA, or to bring the program to your community, visit the campaign’s Facebook page, or contact Angel directly at [email protected]

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