Students participate in Purses with a Purpose

Contributed
Students from Erin Darland’s class at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport hold books from “A Book by Me” series last spring.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

A book-writing project for students led to a purse project to help women in need in the Quad-City area.

Deb Bowen said Love Like Lorraine — Purses with a Purpose started after she encouraged many students to write and illustrate stories for several book series titled “A Book by Me.” The three series focus on the Holocaust, Heroes and Human Rights.

“I started with the Holocaust Series in 2003, with the help of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities. I had met three Jewish survivors, each named Esther, and felt like my idea (books written by kids for kids) could preserve their stories for future generations,” Bowen said.

As the number of books in the Holocaust series increased, a local college professor approached Bowen on the topic of civil rights, so the Human Rights Series was born. The Heros series came out of the World War II generation stories. Students from throughout the area do the interviews and others do the illustrations. Bowen speaks to schools throughout the area and works to get the books into school libraries.

Originally, she spoke with the late Ida Kramer, retired director of the Jewish Federation, and Esther Katz, a survivor of the concentration camp at Auschwitz about the book project. Twice the Jewish Federation has received grants from Scott County Regional Authority to put books in schools. During those distributions, Bowman speaks to the teacher-librarians in the area.

St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport is among the schools she visited. Erin Darland, who teaches sixth and seventh grade at St. Paul, said Bowen is always eager to speak with the students. A Book by Me fits well in Darland’s religion classes, she said. In addition, the purse project “is a great cause and a good one for the youths to help with.”

Purses with a Purpose started because of students, Bowen said. “A middle school had many students sign up to write and illustrate so we did 10 interviews for stories in a matter of a few weeks. As I heard the World War II veterans talk about life before the war, their stories of life during the Great Depression got me thinking of my own mother.” Her mother’s mother divorced her husband because of abusive tendencies.

As the World War II veterans talked about city dwellers going hungry during the Depression, Bowman thought about her mom, a city dweller at that time. “Did my mom go hungry? Divorce wasn’t common back then so was life very difficult? I felt the answers to these questions had to be ‘yes.’”

Bowen took two middle school students to interview Al Taylor, a Pearl Harbor survivor. “Al was a homeless teen. He had run away from an abusive father and slept on friends’ sofas. His story reminded me of the great numbers of homeless teenagers in the Quad Cities right now. His story, and my love for my mother, gave me the desire to take action.”

In January 2006, Bowen posted on Facebook a notice of a meeting at a downtown Davenport café and asked her Facebook friends to bring a gently used purse filled with things women need.

“I arranged for a woman who was once homeless to come and share her story with us. I didn’t know how many people would come, and was surprised when about 50 people came and brought me over 140 purses. Those purses were given to women in two homeless shelters and girls in an alternative school. I started a Facebook page called Love Like Lorraine and more projects started.”

When Darland of St. Paul the Apostle heard about the purse project last year, she invited Bowen to talk to her students about that project and the Book by Me series.

Darland’s students collected money twice for Bowen’s purse initiative. The first time the class gave Bowen a check. The second time they organized a Bingo fundraiser.

The Love Like Lorraine project has donated more than 5,000 purses to women in need. Items inside the purses could include deodorant, hand sanitizer, toothpaste and toothbrushes, hair ties, gum or candy. Sometimes scarves, jewelry or warm socks are included. Drawstring bags are available for boys and men.

For more information about A Book by Me, visit abookbyme.com. To order a book set of 20 for a classroom, visit understandingworks.org. For more information on Love Like Lorraine, call or text Bowen at (309)

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