Heartfelt Handbags lift spirits

Handbags full of hope have been delivered by some passionate people in our Diocese, to a community that’s feeling a “little bit forgotten”.

More than 160 people are living in temporary housing in Wardell after Cabbage Tree Island was ravaged by floods in 2022, forcing them from their homes.

In a bid to make their lives a tiny bit brighter, one of our parishes – Jesus the Good Shepherd, East Lake Macquarie – began collecting donations of handbags, filled with toiletries and other treats, as a gift for the mothers on Mother’s Day.

However, it’s not the first time the congregation has taken action, the parish craft group, along with the Belmont Quirky Quilters, have been supporting the people of Wardell and Coraki for a number of years.

“It started back with the bushfires in 2019 – there are a couple of Sisters of Mercy up there who became involved because they are emergency chaplains,” parishioner Margaret said.

“They let me know about it and our craft group wanted to see what we could do to help and because it was coming on winter we started knitting and crocheting warm things.

“The people there just needed someone to care about them.

“When the floods came through in 2022, the [Jesus the Good Shephard] craft group helped again by collecting gifts for the children at Christmas.

“And now, it’s the handbags. It’s been great to see the community so supportive of our work with those who are struggling,” Margaret said.

“People are very kind when they know there are people in need.”

The Heartfelt Handbags initiative reached more people than originally expected – donations came in from across the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle as people rushed to help.

Formation and Education Officer Nicki Graham said the influx of donations, while perhaps insignificant to some people, would go on to mean a lot to families in need.

Popular donations included bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and soaps. These items went on to form part of the contents of the “Heartfelt Handbags”.

“Collecting the items was a small way for us to support people,” Nicki explained.

“It’s great knowing they will go to people who really need them.”

They ended up filling 80 handbags.

Jess Wilkes, Program Coordinator at the temporary housing site, said any bit of support made a big difference.

“The residents are so grateful that someone is thinking about them,” she said.

“The ongoing relationship from the multiple donations to the impacted community means more than what we can put into words.

“Living in a constant state of not being sure takes its toll so any kind of support we can offer the community through charities, organisations, churches and everyone who donates is pivotal in maintaining people’s wellbeing out here.”

So, how does it help?

Lisa*, a resident who was displaced by the bushfires in 2019, says the donations helped her feel some joy and hope.

“I am very grateful to the people who sew/crochet each stitch with love and care for those who have been knocked down through no fault of their own,” she said.

“The beautiful things bring a spark of colour and care to our lives, especially to the young ones.”

Another resident, Caroline*, believes the donations have a “healing effect on our hearts”.

In 2022, Caroline, her husband, and their seven children had to flee their home when it was inundated with flood waters. They lost their vehicles and many belongings – resulting in “great stress and need”.

While losing their home was devastating, the family also experienced great love, generosity, and kindness from many people in the community and across Australia.

“We received the most beautiful handmade blankets, beanies, and scarves from the craft ladies and this meant so much to us all,” she said.

“It helped us practically, and it also helped us emotionally – to know that people care is a blessing.”

*Names changed to protect identities

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