Strengthen women one handbag at a time

Woman supplies emergency shelters with purses full of toiletries and encouraging notes

CHICAGO – “Put love on the shoulders of women in crisis.” That’s the mantra behind the nonprofit Love Purse. The intention is to offer them a source of empowerment through a handbag.

Maria Castro founded Love Purse during the pandemic after receiving a call from the founder of a Safe Haven Shelter. The shelter needed toiletries for the women who stayed there.

“When I bought everything and brought it home, I couldn’t believe myself how I could give a plastic bag to a woman who was already feeling down and really down,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a better way to do this.’ I thought about it and went on to Amazon and typed in wallets under $20. And all these amazing wallets showed up.”

She packed the purses with feminine products, deodorant, hand sanitizer and soap. But that wasn’t enough. Castro wanted to add a touch of encouragement.

“But as I stuffed it, I thought to myself, ‘God, I love the feeling of being able to help this woman — whoever she’s going to be — who’s opening this purse. Maybe I’ll write a little inspirational note to put there and make her feel like this is really just for her.’”

And she hasn’t stopped since.

Castro has purses distributed across the state, country, and even the world.

“There was no lack of participation and donations,” she said. “Unfortunately, the need is so great.”

Castro said Love Purse’s huge success was made possible with the help of generous community members who throw purse-filling parties and then deliver them to an agency they want to help.

A current collection on 11th The CAPS district office went to the animal shelter called the Dream Catcher Foundation in Chicago.

“I met with the CPD people and they were so excited because they have their domestic violence unit and they work very closely with shelters,” Castro said.

Not only did it bring something to the recipients, but it also brought positive energy among those helping to pack a purse.

All bag colors, sizes and styles are accepted. Castro’s only condition is that they are unused.

“Everything has to be new because she’s starting over and I want her to feel that,” she said. “I don’t want anyone ever to think, ‘Well, she should be thankful that she got this used purse that I don’t want anymore.’ That’s not the case. It has to be brand new.”

The gift of a new handbag helped nearly 7,000 women. Castro said most of them went to women of color.

“Probably a good 40%, maybe more, are Latinas, which is really sad because a lot of that is the cultural differences,” she said. “They don’t want to call the police about their perpetrator if they are immigrants to this country and they don’t have papers. You’re afraid of getting into trouble. So they stay. They stay longer than they should.”

From sparkling to colorful Love purses are more than just a fashion statement for Castro. They are filled with the tools many women need to start a new chapter in their lives.

“It brings them hope and makes them feel like everything will be fine,” she said. “Like they have something that is theirs and won’t be taken away from them. You don’t have to share it or anything.”

In the spirit of helping women, Castro wants the momentum to continue until she reaches her goal of helping 100,000 women.

And when that’s achieved, she wants the number to double to make her feel more valued.

People interested in donating or hosting a money-bag party can contact Castro on their website.

“I could never imagine it, but I feel like when someone gets this handbag, they need to feel that love,” she said. “I know they do when they open it and see everything in it and read the note. It’s like magic.” Strengthen women one handbag at a time

Grace Reader

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