Packing purses with soap and hope for women in need

Date Published: 
Nov. 3, 2017

Coastal Point • Laura Walter:  From left, Norma Hall, Teresa Shockley, Gladys Aviles-Johnson and Ruth Thomas take a break from packing Patsy’s Purses for a photo. The purses get filled with toiletries, then delivered to homeless shelters and other safe homes.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: From left, Norma Hall, Teresa Shockley, Gladys Aviles-Johnson and Ruth Thomas take a break from packing Patsy’s Purses for a photo. The purses get filled with toiletries, then delivered to homeless shelters and other safe homes.When her mother passed away from cancer on Sept. 11, 2016, Gladys Aviles-Johnson couldn’t bear to just ship her mother’s belongings to a thrift shop.

“I felt like we were throwing them out. I just prayed about it, ‘Lord, what can we do to make a difference?’” the Bridgeville resident said.

She was inspired to give her mother’s purse collection to women in need. Now Patsy’s Purses are filled with toiletries and other necessary items, then delivered to homeless shelters, rehab centers and other safe homes.

“You figure you have nothing, and then you come out and you get the staples that you need,” said Ruth Thomas of Georgetown, who helps prepare bags.

It’s a special gift, especially for people who have felt looked-down upon, either through homelessness, addiction or abuse.

“Anything that can build them up instead of tear them down…” said Aviles-Johnson.

Patsy Aviles was a single mother of four children who lived on the western Delaware/Maryland border and worked in canneries all her life. Before she succumbed to bladder cancer, she was known as a real fighter, someone who was always helping people and who inspired her kids to do the same.

Now, each Patsy’s Purses bag includes socks, gloves, a notepad, a sewing kit, a washcloth, soap, shampoo, feminine pads and other necessities. Some items are also intended help lift the women up, such as a manicure kit and a Bible.

Ruth Thomas hand-knits a tiny prayer shawl and types a simple prayer for each lady, reminding them that they’re never alone.

“It’s point-of-contact. It’s just something to hold on to,” Thomas said.

The finishing touch is a handwritten note from Norma Hall, telling the women, “You are loved.”

When Hall first heard about Patsy’s Purses, she said, she wanted to help immediately. Now living in Frankford, she’s also lived through tough times herself.

“I know how you feel when you come out of it — you don’t have nothing,” Hall said. “It’s awful out there. And these young girls — I wish I could go to the schools and talk to them and tell them you don’t need to be on that stuff,” she said of drugs. “And now I’m helping the homeless people and the people who go to rehab.”

Locally, bags have been sent to Sussex Community Crisis Housing Services in Georgetown; Serenity Properties in Georgetown; Hands of Hope in Bridgeville; People’s Place in Milford; the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence in Dorchester County, Md.; and many more. They’ve also sent bags farther afield, to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Puerto Rico, Mexico and “anywhere I can find an opportunity to give,” said Aviles-Johnson.

Since the first delivery on Sept. 28, 2016, they’ve donated more than 200 purses, including to a 10-year-old staying with her mother at a shelter, who they said just “lit up” at receiving her own bag.

“The outreach is awesome,” said Aviles-Johnson. “We’ve been blessed with donations. They say, ‘When God is in it, there’s no limit.’”

They’re always accepting donations, while looking for more opportunities to help women.

Anyone who would like to participate should contact Gladys Aviles-Johnson through Facebook or by calling (302) 745-5562.