The Story of Helping Hearts & Handbags, Inc.
As a frequent visitor to large cities, I often felt terribly saddened and overwhelmed by the number of homeless women I would see on the crowded, dirty, and busy city streets. I would think to myself "What happened to you? What is your story?" But like many of us, my life was hectic and busy working full-time and raising a family, so the best I did was hand over a few dollars or buy a meal. It just never felt like enough though, especially since there seemed to be so much suffering on the streets.
And then one day I read a simple quote by one of the most compassionate women to ever walk this earth...
I decided to try and do at least something small; after all it was better than nothing. I traveled a lot with my job, so whenever I'd leave a hotel I would bring home the unused toiletries and throw them into a shopping bag. My husband also traveled and he soon joined my efforts. It wasn't long before the shopping bags began overflowing with the travel-sized shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and soaps. I asked a dear friend of mine, Dino Polizois, (who is battling Huntington's Disease and needs to keep his brain engaged), to sort them and put one of each into baggies. We also tucked in a "Have a Nice Day" note and I would donate them to shelters for homeless women. After a few years of donating hundreds of baggies full of toiletries, I was cleaning out my closet one day and realized that I had a bunch of unused purses just collecting dust. I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be great to put the toiletries into a purse and donate those instead of the baggies”? Maybe it would be nicer for homeless women to carry their belongings in a purse instead of the paper or plastic bags I often saw them carrying. It might make them feel a little more dignified, despite the very difficult life living either in a shelter or on the streets. So I dusted off my gently-used purses and started filling them with the toiletries. My little baggies looked pretty lonely in those first few purses, so I did some research on the Internet and found some great ideas for personal care items for the homeless.
And then I started thinking that if I had a bunch of purses collecting dust on the shelves of my closet, I was pretty sure my friends and colleagues did too. So I started with my Book Club... a wonderful group of ladies we call "Dino's Gals" in honor of that same great guy who first sorted my hotel toiletries into the baggies. I wrote up a very basic list of personal care items, and asked the group if they would be interested in donating their gently-used purses and some of the items to fill them.
Well... when you ask a bunch of women if they have any used purses (the answer is always YES) and if they would like to help less fortunate women (the answer is always YES again), you end up with bags and bags of purses and personal care items! Then you get women asking how else they can help. Then you get women asking their friends and their churches and their places of work if they'd like to donate and before you know it… you have a basement full of purses/items and Helping Hearts & Handbags, Inc. is created!
The wonderful women (and now men) who donate their time and resources to HH&H's are spreading love and compassion to women who, for one reason or another, have lost their way. The purses, along with our Helping Hearts & Handbags, Inc. handwritten note to each woman, is our way of saying “We see you. We know you’re going through a tough time. We care about you.”
With your help, we are reaching one woman at a time... just like Mother Teresa said. And for that we are very grateful.
Lisa Smith Wagner, Founder