Bringing ‘Hope in a Handbag

Paula Neuman
Wyandotte Warrior

Janelle Rose, co-owner of Willow Tree clothing store in Wyandotte, keeps blankets and coats in the trunk of her car when the weather is cold. When she sees someone homeless, she pulls over and gives that person a coat and a blanket.

Recently, she learned of other needs.

“I saw something somewhere about how homeless women don’t have access to feminine hygiene products,” Rose said.

She posted something about that on social media, and got a message from friend Carol Bridges, director of service excellence and volunteer services at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

“She sent me a note saying she wanted to do something,” Rose said. “We met and hatched a plan to launch Hope in a Handbag.”

In the course of the campaign, she was dismayed to learn how many teenage girls in the Downriver community are homeless.

Here’s how her Hope in a Handbag mission worked: Donors filled used but serviceable handbags or backpacks with feminine hygiene products; facial care products; haircare products including shampoo and hairbrushes; skincare products; razors and shaving cream; deodorant; baby wipes; toothpaste, brushes, floss and mouthwash; even makeup and nail polish.

“These are things most people take for granted,” Rose said.

The donors brought those stuffed handbags to Rose at her store and to Bridges at her home in Trenton. Her book club members were among the donors.

“We have over 200 that we’ve collected,” Rose said. “We’ll have them all distributed by the end of the week.”

The handbags are going to First Step, a local shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; ChristNet, a local partnership of churches serving the homeless; the Salvation Army; and Alternatives for Girls, which offers shelter and support for homeless girls.

“I’m going to keep some in my trunk, so when I see a homeless woman, I can give it to her,” Rose said.

The Hope in a Handbag campaign has been so successful that Rose plans to do it once a year in May.

Laine Weslow was the first donator, Rose said.

“She brought in a brand new bag filled to the brim with things everybody would need who has a newborn baby and for herself,” Rose said. “Some people brought in big full bags, and other brought smaller bags with makeup and wallets and cosmetics cases. We have it from one end of needs to the other.”

Betty Nalepa, heard about the effort and shared it with a group of teens at a health careers mentoring group at the hospital, where she is manager of information services. The teens brought in 20 bags and things to fill them with. They assembled the handbags at Willow Tree.

“Betty came in three different times with tons of bags and totes,” Rose said.

“What a great community we have! Making a difference in our community just makes a difference in my life.”

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