Students stuff ‘man’ bags, purses for homeless

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By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — A working relationship between junior high students of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School and Deb Bowen, who created “A Book by Me” and “Love Like Lorraine,” led to a new service project last month.
The project involved writing a grant to create “man” bags and purses for people in need in the Quad-City community. St. Paul the Apostle already had a connection with Bowen through Erin Darland, now K-4 academic support teacher, who had worked with Bowen on projects at the school when Darland taught junior high.

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Students from St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport — Anne Burchett, Harrison Keil, Olivia Kahler and Rosie Sierra — assemble “man” bags and purses for the homeless in Davenport.

Darland said she asked the junior high students if they had any interest in writing a grant for a project to make “man” bags and purses for people who struggle with homelessness. The students were interested and, as part of the project, did research on homelessness in the community.

The teacher helped students Anne Burchett and Olivia Kahler write a grant through Love Like Lija. “We got $1,000 to do the service project. St. Paul’s collected an additional $465.” Then Darland led meetings with primarily eighth-graders, took students shopping and helped with assembly of the bags.

Friends and family donated items such as purses, gift cards, shampoo and money for the bags. “We were able to purchase enough ‘stuff’ to fill 70 man bags and 30 purses with things like socks, scarves, candy, lip balm, shampoo, body wash, hand sanitizer, nail polish, nail clipper, brushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and a hand-written card in each bag,” she said. “Don’t forget the love and hope — both were lovingly packed into each bag. We had a small group of student and adult helpers to stuff the bags.”

Students delivered the Bags of Hope to McAnthony Window at St. Anthony Parish in Davenport on Dec. 21. “My heart was overflowing,” Darland said. “McAnthony volunteers were overjoyed and so amazed with the bags, purses and the contents. The girls were able to give a purse out at the window, too,” she said.

“I am so happy that I got the opportunity to make these bags to help people who need them,” said Anne. “I hope that someone truly benefited from the bags and received hope for the future.” Olivia added, “It was a really amazing experience and I learned how much you can support those around you, even if you don’t know them personally. I think it’s important for everyone to realize how much they are capable of, no matter who they are.”

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A Book by Me/Love like Lorraine

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

Purses with a Purpose started after Bowen heard World War II veterans talk about life before the war and stories of life during the Great Depression. She thought about her own mother, who lived during that time. Bowen’s grandparents had divorced leading her to wonder how her mother experienced life then. “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.’”

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.

About 50 people arrived with more than 140 purses, which were given to women in two homeless shelters and to girls in an alternative school. “I started a Facebook page called Love Like Lorraine and more projects started.” The project expanded to reach out to men to provide them with “man” bags.


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