A gift for those in need
By Paloma Sanchez
Acts of kindness are at the heart of Love Purse, which donates purses containing basic items such as toothbrushes, shampoo and soap to women in very challenging situations. These purses contain hope and love transmitted to those women, who know that someone cares about them. It’s a sign of hope that no matter how deep our struggles may be, there is always a helping hand long the way guiding us to a better path.
Maria Castro, a Tejana living in Chicago, started this wonderful movement during COVID, when women who had been locked in with their abusers began arriving in shelters seeking refuge. “It was March 2021. I had a friend that had a shelter in Chicago and was helping homeless people.
During the pandemic, I found out a great number of women seeking shelter from their abusers. I spoke to another county in Illinois and mentioned that the increase of volume intake was over 400%, which I found alarming,” she recalled.
The shelters were looking for toiletry for mostly minority women seeking help. Without hesitating, Maria went to a Dollar Store and bought all the toiletries she could. She started packing them in plastic bags, but then realized that it was probably better to put them in “something prettier.” She ordered several purses on Amazon and packed them with toiletries. She also added little cards with notes of inspiration, for the purpose of giving women back a bit of dignity when they fled home.
“The influx of women was overwhelming and didn’t have enough purses to give out,” she said.
Maria learned more about the need from friends who sat on county boards on issues of domestic violence and drug trafficking. They directly reached out to her, and the movement grew.
“I realized that this was going to help these women understand how much they were loved. It was going to be called ‘Love Purse’ because each purse was going to be filled with love for women to understand that they mattered. I started the #LovePurse campaign by calling and emailing friends. Everyone that knew me well knew that women needed these items. I said, ‘If you can bring 1-2 purses, let’s help the women in this shelter.’ We collected over 300 purses and, within a month, we got 500 purses,” Maria continued.
It only took a year for the idea to mature. “It resonated with so many people. As they realized that they could collect purses, people mobilized. I was getting numerous calls from shelters. We had sororities, Girl Scout groups, church congregations, among others, asking how they could drop them off,” she said.
The word spread throughout Chicagoland. Love Purse even made it to the cover of the Delaplaine Arts Magazine in 2022.
But compassion has no borders. This magnificent idea has expanded to other states and countries. In the U.S., there are nine #LovePurse chapters, including Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, Minnesota, Texas and California. Abroad, Love Purse has spread to Ukraine during its war with Russia and Turkey during the massive earthquake last year. There have been purse collection events in Mexico, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. Love Purse has had an outpouring of love from donors who come from all walks of life and give without expecting anything in return.
“We began going to shelters with homeless people, victims of domestic violence, and now we’re helping women in cancer centers, and even in the Instituto del Progreso Latino in Chicago where migrants are arriving,” Maria said. “We just did an event with the Clerk of Cook County. For the last two years, she’s put together a huge event for her employees. Last year, the employees brought 152 new purses and gave them to the shelters. There are many people donating, volunteers donating their time, and small, medium, and large companies such as Morgan Stanley, AARP, Redbox, Walgreens, Wintrust Bank, and a local media company – Cutters Studios.”
Love Purse has a board of six members and a growing group of volunteers. The efforts of bringing new bags, new toiletries, packaging them with these articles, and then going to shelters in most need are collective efforts with aim of having women realize that they are supported and to keep moving forward regardless of what they might be going through. Love Purse recently auctioned one of Oprah Winfrey’s bags at their gala in October. It was called the Bootlegger’s Bash and took place at the Wilder Mansion in Elmhurst. Guests wore Prohibition-era costumes and participated in casino games over mocktails.
Maria wears two hats – she is not only the CEO of Love Purse but also Regional External Affairs Manager at the Community Investment Team at Comcast. On November 2, she was recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business as one of the “Notable Leaders” in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
When asked what she would like to share with LATINO readers, she stated. “The sun will shine again. You can abundantly give time, talent, and treasures.”
If you would like to donate to Love Purse, you may purchase a $50 dollar gift card that includes a new purse with toiletries. You can also include a message you would like to convey to the women receiving the purses.