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Silent act of community outreach puts purses filled with essentials in the hands of those in need

“I guess I knew there was a need for personal products for women, that people need them in the community, that people were struggling.”

Rev. Susan McAllister
Elva Jeffries, left, and Rev. Susan McAllister of Princess Street United Church hang purses filled with essential items on the railings as part of their community outreach. Photo by Penny Cadue.

An odd sight—14 summery, colourful purses hanging on a metal railing—might have caught your attention at the corner of Albert and Princess Streets where Princess Street United Church is located.

A community outreach program from The Session group of Princess Street United Church, the purses are up for grabs for anyone needing a little helping hand.

Fourteen colourful purses filled with hygiene items are free to anyone who needs them. Photo by Penny Cadue.

Each bag contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, hairbrush or comb, tissues, sanitary pads, deodorant, hand lotion, granola bar, hand sanitizer, gum or Tic Tacs, and a lip balm.

Rev. Susan McAllister, a minister of the church for the past seven years, first thought of the Purse Project when the pandemic started last year.

“I guess I knew there was a need for personal products for women, that people need them in the community, that people were struggling. A lot of places were not open for them,” she said.

“It’s part of our outreach, connecting to the community. Putting it in church terms, we are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, living out Christ’s call to love, to care and be there for one another.”

At 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 28, 2021, volunteers hung 14 filled purses on the outdoor railings of the church—their third give-away collection since the pandemic began. By 1 p.m., only five were left, and by the next day, all of the purses were gone.

“They seem to appreciate them, the purses are gone so quickly,” McAllister said.

She said that once the idea was initiated last year, the weekly newsletters she sent out helped let everyone in the congregation know of the needs. Donations of purses, hygiene items, and cash started pouring in.

Elva Jeffries, Kevin Guthrie, and Rev. Susan McAllister all helped to display the “Purse Project” on Wednesday, July 28, 2021. Photo by Penny Cadue.

A connection with Loving Hands organization produced a huge variety of donated purses. Keeping only the “most appealing” purses, McAllister and The Session group got busy purchasing items from donated cash, as well as filling and tagging the bags for the project.

“There needs to be some dignity in what we give to people.” Rev. Susan McAllister

Asked if they currently need donations, McAllister said that donations of hygienic items are needed, as well as cash donations.

Bags of all sizes are still accepted for donations, as long as they are in good condition—no purses with broken clasps for example.

“There needs to be some dignity in what we give to people.”

Future plans include filling backpacks for men, so McAllister said they are looking for donations of backpacks.

Princess Street United Church is located at 484 Albert Street in downtown Kingston. Photo by Penny Cadue.

“We haven’t had any donations of backpacks. If there were backpacks around, we would fill it with the same [items],” she said.

The church also hangs on the same railing free knitted scarves and hats in the winter time for anyone needing them.

“We’re trying to let people know that we’re still here. We’re available for support,” McAllister expressed.

The reverend said that their church worships online at 10 a.m. on Zoom—for now—until the planned reopening of in-person services sometime in the fall. About 75 people are members of the congregation, with an average of 30 people attending on a regular basis.

Donations can be made by e-transfer using the “Purse Project” as the subject, sent to the church’s email [email protected], or through canadahelps.org. Princess Street United Church is located at 484 Albert Street in downtown Kingston. For more information, call 613-542-6112, or visit their website here.

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