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One Small Thing. One Small Purse.

There's a church in my neighborhood that I pass nearly every day when I walk my dog. It's a pretty church with long, thick white columns. The congregants seem nice enough, too, as they don't speed out of the parking lot in my quiet neighborhood on Sundays or when the Boy Scouts are having their meetings. All in all, I like this church. This building. There is a sign out front that poses a question to all passersby:



This sign has bothered me ever since I've read it. But this isn't a post about the passive-aggressive message contained within. In fact, I could very well answer the question with the fact that I've used my powers for good once before and was overwhelmed with the compassion of friends and regular readers of this blog. (For those who don't know the story, I offered to donate a dollar for each comment I got on a post about three students who wouldn't have had a Christmas and readers responded with generous hearts and selfless motives until we reached over $1,000 for which to buy gifts for them. The story still chokes me up when I think about it and it's all I can do not to blame it on hormones.)

Are you ready for a strange segue? Here goes...

SO! My school has been in the news a lot lately and it's nothing short of fifty shades of SUCK. It's no secret that the media beat us up and I already work at the district step-child high school. It's also no secret (to readers of Mocha Momma) that I adore my co-workers and students and go into work every day to the hardest, most unappreciated job in the world. Some days call for me to take the hit that I don't deserve. Other days I am challenged by those I work with one second only to be in a position to defend them passionately in the next. Right now I refuse to even link to those stories and I never read the online comments to newspaper stories because then I feel the need to apologize on behalf of all educators who have left those people behind. WE'RE SORRY YOU DON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN "YOUR" AND "YOU'RE" OR "PRINCIPAL" AND "PRINCIPLE."

That's about as much as I can say about work-related stuff without getting into trouble. I have a deficiency in the area of shutting-the-heck-up-when-I-should. There's not a pill or anything that works to make that better. 

As I walk into work each day the poverty of my schools' students is never lost on me. Yet, I watch some of these students who come from more than difficult home lives continually come to school where they want to learn. Even more impressive is that they come to school and help with blood drives, canned food collections, and other community service events even when they themselves are in need. It is not lost on me that they are themselves inspiring to the adults who gladly work with them. In a million years I didn't expect to have a career that I loved this much. The things I get to witness and the growing I get to watch astounds me.

Recently, because of a response to the media trashing us, we are hitting hard on some things in our school. Students have never been allowed to carry backpacks, but the issue that keeps coming up are the girls' purses. Hey, I'm as fashion forward as the next gal so I know that big purses are here to stay. When my male students complain that girls get to even carry purses I remind them, gently, that as soon as they have to carry around tampons and Midol this won't be an issue. 

Some of the biggest complainers have come to see me in my office or caught me in the hallway or a classroom:

Why can't we carry big purses? I saved up $50 to buy this and it's the only one I have! I can't buy another one.

This is stupid! I'm a good girl. Why are we always getting punished?

Who even SELLS small purses? Everything in the stores is big. 

These girls are right. They're also pretty whiny when they come talk to me so I decided to take something ugly and turn it in to something pretty. I asked seven girls to help me coordinate a Purse Drive for school and I'm using my blog to spread the word. 

Do you have an old, small purse you'd be willing to donate?

Can you purchase a small purse that we can use for our Purse Drive?

My intention is to take all donations and sell them for the set price of $5 for any girl who wants to come to the Purse Shop I'm setting up in school and then give the money to the school. My seven girls will help me set it up, arrange the purses for display, collect the money, and do a really good thing. A small thing, but a good thing nonetheless.

Here's what I was wondering: can you help? More details on where to send purses coming soon. Maybe a widget! A button for your blog! But most importantly, you get that really good feeling of doing some good in the world and showing compassion to a bunch of teenage girls you don't even know.

UPDATE on November 8, 2009: Yes, the purse drive is still going strong. Perhaps I should have mentioned that there are nearly 700 girls in my school and we'd love to see this as a sustainable project. So, if you've been meaning to send purses and haven't done it yet, please consider doing so. We are grateful for any and all donations.
« Tiny Purses, Big Hearts | Main | Your Chance To Be Ann Landers »

Reader Comments (100)

[...] you want me to wax poetic about the kindness of strangers I will, but then there will be tears all over my keyboard and I won’t be able to see. But if [...]

October 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma » Tiny Purse

This is really amazing, Kelly. Going on to the new post to read the details...

October 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHeadless Mom

Kelly, What a great idea! Keep your chin up while under the barrage of negative media attention. It is a shame that we have to live in a world where there are off duty police officers having to serve as security at school, where backpacks and purses could be harbouring weapons, etc.

I was a student at Southeast high school during some pretty racially charged and violent times. In my day, Southeast was the step child and had a really bad rap. From personal experience, it was not a bad school, just a school populated by a FEW pretty bad individuals that seemed driven to make sure they (and our school) were constantly making headlines.

"This is stupid! I’m a good girl. Why are we always getting punished?"

This quote broke my heart. As the mother of a "good girl" who will one day be attending your school, I was hurt on behalf of all the students at this particular school who do go there in hopes of learning.

Those students who always end up suffering the consequences because of a few bad actors. Those students who just want to get through their high school experience with some needed tools to further their goals of getting out of what are sometimes less than ideal neighborhoods, homes, family dynamics, etc.

It may seem to some like its a silly thing. Students that attend this school typically come from some pretty depressed neighborhoods and financial situations. Why all the fuss about something like a purse? Why not address the larger problems? Here's why - not everyone can address the larger problems. But who can't afford to donate a gently used or new purse? Who would object to sparing a young woman's dignity by making sure the purse in which she carries her most personal toiletries is one that fits within the new and everchanging guidelines of school dress code and policy?

SIDENOTE TO Sheri Bheri: I love the idea of inspirational quotes. Young girls and women in todays society face a lot of challenges. Giving them something (even just a note) to help keep them inspired, feeling smart, beautiful, valued, important, worthy etc is like the cherry on top.

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTanya Cox

[...] I’m a pretty good mom, too, because Mallory has sent out a request to her friends to help her mother’s Purse Drive out. Talk about being verklempt! I read her email and nearly fell over. Sometimes, we don’t [...]

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma » I am INSPI

OF COURSE I can help! I was a costumer so some of my small purses will be, um, unique, but I gotta go to storage to get the really great ones -- I'll send the closet ones (except for the one my sister made me, loyalty, ya know) right off this week -- (just landed here by accident via the editor's pick on, and it was my first time there too, so I gotta look around for the address -- VERY COOL IDEA.

Man, it always amazes and impresses me that there really is so much talent out there... I see it in my biz but I get so jaded, thinking it can't really be out there in force like it is in my work, but MAN! You guys are continually knocking me upside the head with your brights and shine. Hats off, man, keep up the good works...


October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGirlPie

I saw @HerBadMother's tweet about this and I'm totally down! I have a bunch of older (but hardly used) Coach bags that I've wanted to get rid of for a while. I'll post about it on my blog/Twitter/Facebook as well.

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

This is such a great idea - I would love to send you some small purses - look forward to additional info!!!

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaria @BOREDmommy

I'm in...but I'd need to know what a "small" purse's dimensions are to know how many I have to send...

October 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTC

Dear Teacher,

You pull at my purse strings... I mean heart strings, I"m a retired, reinvented teacher. I used to teach at a Houston elementary school of equal caliber. I would receive birthday gifts of teddy bears soiled and wrapped in towels, mom's used and likely only lipstick. It used to bring me to tears once they left the classroom. I would like to touch the lives back that touched my own. And I happen to have a lot of little purses... it's the only kind I like to have. So here's my question, when & where?

October 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSonia

found your post on Kirtsy and voted you up :D

You have a great post here. I really enjoyed it. And the whole of your blog is awesome. I especially love the layout. :D

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJust Jennifer


I hope everyone has seen the information on the purse size and where to send them. I'm still so sorry about the PayPal thing. I know folks are awaiting that to be fixed completely, and yet somehow a few people have found out how to send it. Your smarts far outweigh my stupidity. Uh. Or maybe not.

Thank you just doesn't seem like enough, but my heart is so full that's all I can squeeze out right now.


October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

[...] The Small Purse Drive! It’s off the chain! I love humanity right [...]

October 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma » Ten Good T

I not only have a couple small purses I can donate -I have all this spare fabric where I can sew up a couple nice small purses. Some are cut but not finished. Putting it on my calendar for tomorrow.

(may I turn this into a craft post? because making purses and bags are very popular crafty things to do)...

Awaiting shipping details for the The Small Purse Drive.

October 24, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdeb roby

Here via @DebRoby. I know I've got a few in a box in my closet -- will try to get those to you soon!
Cheers, and Thanks for being an amazing teacher. :D

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAl_Pal

Hi MM. I learned about your purse drive from Surrender, Dorothy's blog. I caught the size limitations for the purses but no information on how to get you money, ebag gift cards, or actual purses. Am I missing it? Will post a link to your blob from Facebook as soon as I have all the details.

Thanks for letting this stranger help with your campaign. Those students are so lucky to have you.

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarla

errr, blog. I meant BLOG.

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarla

Sorry for multiple posts -- I found the paypal link and sent you a donation.

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarla

Karla, you are a welcome joy. I haven't giggled so hard all day. I often call it my blob so no worries.

Thank you for the donation. I'm so shocked that people are really this generous. Even though I shouldn't be!

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

This is such a great idea... Would be glad to help.. I don't have small purses but I do have PayPal...

October 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDona West

Every time I think I've found the best of you you do something even better. I'll get the neighborhood cookin' on this. Miss you... and I'm so proud you're my friend!

October 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia Samuels

[...] Roby alerted me to The Small Purse Project, which is small and meaningful, and I hope you can [...]

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCraftyPod » Blog Archive

What a sweet project! I'll put it on my blog and try to get my readers involved. Thanks for the opportunity.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Overton

Please send me the addy and I am on it. I am bringing this to work, too. I work with lots of females and I KNOW they all have extra purse-lets to share.

October 29, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterrobin

I've made a Japanese knot bag that was mentioned and linked to upstream. They're pretty easy to made and require only basic sewing skills. One bag can be knocked off in a couple or three hours. It would even make a good project for teenage girls if they have access to fabric, sewing machines, and so on.

I'd suggest finding a few easy purse patterns like the Japanese knot bag and handing them out to any of the girls who want to sew their own. :)

October 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie Ashton Farook

Hi Kelly I read about this project over on Sister Diane's CraftyPod blog and that's a great idea to have new, thrifted, and crafted purses made available for your girls. I'm a bit far out of town (Canada) but what about possibly getting the girls involved and learning to make some of the purses themselves? There's tons of free patterns for knitted & crocheted bags on Ravelry and other blogs, BurdaStyle and have sewing (and no-sew) projects. Perhaps this is an opportunity to get them involved and learning to craft, then they can be creative and design the bags that they want. Then even people who may not be able to donate a bag might be able to donate stash yarn & fabric, or a shopping trip to the thrift store might inspire the girls to repurpose vintage fabric finds into a great bag. I hope it goes well!

October 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKelleBelle

I thought I already commented... anyway, you are amazing Kelly. So happy to help!

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas

Mocha Mamma- Please contact me-my dear cousing in Ohio sent me this blog! madBaggage is an eco & animal-friendly handbag line. I would like to donate to your cause. Please contact me through the web and let me know the size requirements. I have a perfect purse for your girls. It is 13" wide at the base and 11" high, called a self handled tote with a detachable shoulder strap.

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFern

Kelly--I just read that your have a 8 1/2" X 11" requirement. Can you make an execption for a NEW madbaggage donation to your cause--it is actually 14" at the base and 11" high???? The fashion today is for large bags, and this is my smallest in this first collection!

November 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFern

Did I miss the address? I would much rather ship some purses to you than have them live a sad life at the bottom of a donation box somewhere!

November 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennyalice

This is a brilliant idea. I have 4 sisters and a mother who collects bags. I am sure we have stuff to donate.

Additionally, I crochet bags. My wheels are spinning on creating something that could be unique and specific to what you are trying to do.

Let me know how we can get stuff to you?

November 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

I just recently found you blog (because of Dave Bakke's article in the SJ-R). I LOVE it. I love reading blogs, especially well written ones and I'm so excited to find one from a writer so local.

I love this idea of a purse drive. My boyfriend's niece attends your school and I know you guys have been having a lot of issues. I want you to know that there are a lot of us who really do appreciate all that you and other administers are doing.

And this purse drive is truly inspirational.

November 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKara

Is this still going on? We're thinking we want to help! It's a fab u lous idea and we hope to get our Sunday School class into it.
BTW, Terry Doyle and Paris Ervin Doyle are friends of ours. I understand he just started working at your school

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate

UPDATE: Yes, the purse drive is still going strong. Perhaps I should have mentioned that there are nearly 700 girls in my school and we'd love to see this as a sustainable project.

So, if you've been meaning to send purses and haven't done it yet, please consider doing so. We are grateful for any and all donations.

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

I'm sorry - I can find the SIZE you are requesting (8.5 x 11 or smaller), but I can't find out where you want us to send them. Can we drop them off at the school? If so, where and when?

November 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHavePulse

[...] is a sampling of the purses we’ve received (for those that don’t know, the details are here) and even one of the inspirational sayings that is attached to a bag. We’re opening shop this [...]

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma » Purses &am

How small does the purse have to be? Email me and let me know where I can send one and when you need to have them by. I'll whip you up a purse!

November 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa @ Unfiltered Insanity

Wow, this is the most unorganized blog ever... finally found the HIDDEN details of where to send the purses. No answer to if we can just drop them off... when we're all hurting for money, seems silly to PAY to send purses a couple blocks away!

Kelly Wickham (don’t use Mocha Momma for the title – I hear the Postal Service doesn’t have a sense of humor)

P.O. Box 9465
Springfield, IL 62791

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHavePulse

[...] is a sticky post so the Purse Drive details can be visible for all [...]

November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma » One Small

i have oodles of bags that i'd like to send ya but want to confirm the address. :) every girl needs a bag to call her own. and heck, more than one is good as well.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjen

[...] many people have left cards and inspirational notes inside the purses they’ve donated to the Purse Drive (Hey, fellas? I know you come here and get tired of the girly talk, but just for one second remember [...]

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma » The Need t

I apologize if this question has already been answered, but I am not able to find out the how and when for donating purses to your school's purse drive. I have many "small" purses that I used during college (I haven't really gotten into the big purse craze!) and would love to donate them to your school! Please let me know either through a comment or email. Thanks! :)

November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

You are truly amazing. I'm going to my closet now. :)

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPunditMom/Joanne Bamberger

I mailed you a box o' purses on Friday, so you should receive them soon.

November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAverage Jane

I followed a like from Mel, A Dramatic Mommy's blog. I don't have any small pursed, but if I come across any, I will forward. I think what you're doing is awesome.

November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLaTonya

[...] send it to her.  She is working with teens in her school to set up a purse store.  Details here and update [...]

Hi there --
I think I have a solution to many girls' issues with self confidence and peace of mind when it comes to the purse restriction thing.
There's a new discreet strap-on carrying case that you can wear on your thigh, calf, ankle, arm or waist under the clothing to keep all the essentials ON your person without risk of theft, loss or inconvenience. It's called PortaPocket and it fits things like IDs, $, tampons, pads, lipstick, cell phones, insulin pumps, inhalers, EpiPens, etc. Comfy neoprene. Detachable, interchangeable, inexpensive. Ideal for use at homecoming & prom, too. Helping girls help themselves. Hope this is useful for your students :)

November 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKendra Kroll

How come the boys aren't allowed to carry purses? That seems unfair.

November 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRocky

I'm looking for the address to send my purses to you. Where is it!?

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersizzle

I have three on the way to you!

do you still need more purses? I have a few that I no longer use.

December 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJess

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