The Falkenberg family has been collecting and donating purses and backpacks from the community to give to the homeless and people fleeing violent domestic relationships. From left dad Grant Falkenberg, Jenna, Samantha, Keegan, Aimee and Ella with just some of the donated purses, backpacks and toiletries so far. — Lauren Collins photo

Purses give a ‘sense of hope’

Columbia Beach family helps homeless, domestic violence victims

Aimee Falkenberg said her goal is to be able to give back every day for a year.

Since 2013, Falkenberg and her family have been collecting backpacks and purses in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area and filling the purses and backpacks with toiletries and pyjamas, which she then donates to the homeless and to a local shelter.

“My idea for the Christmas giving project is to try and collect enough that would be enough to be able to put something on everyone’s bed for every night of the year,” Falkenberg said.

Falkenberg, co-ordinator for Island Health’s forensic nurse examiner program, said she started filling backpacks to donate in 2008, when she was working in Surrey.

“My boss was actually the one who started a backpack project, and I moved over here in 2013. I continued to be a forensic nurse examiner and I thought, there’s nothing over here that the forensic nursing program was really doing that was the same project that I had been doing (in Surrey).”

In the first year, Falkenberg said, the family donated just backpacks, handing them out in Parksville Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Victoria.

Then, in 2014, Falkenberg said, she began collecting purses for women who have fled domestic violence or intimate partner violence and gone into local safe homes.

“I had a couple of nurses on my team say, ‘Why don’t we do it a little bit different each year and try and capture different individuals who might be experiencing intentional violence, as well as including our homeless population?’”

That expanded into collecting donations for children as well, Falkenberg said.

“Because they quite often go in (to shelters) with their children, we’ve been collecting pyjamas — brand new pyjamas for children, and some books and fresh socks and something special for them to be sitting on their bed when they come in after fleeing some sort of violence in their life,” she said.

“I just pictured these women and children coming into a safe home where they don’t know anybody — they had to leave a horrible situation — to looking on their bed and seeing a little gift from their community, saying that they are thinking about them and trying to send them some sense of hope.”

Every year, Falkenberg’s family helps her pack up the backpacks and/or purses and donate them.

“My four children have been doing this since they were babies… I think it’s just been eye-opening for my children to be able to see the sense of community and what it means to not have enough and that other people can help you when you need it and how you can help.”

Falkenberg said Natural Evolution Hair Studio in Parksville is helping with donations, Iron Warehouse is collecting purses and a local dentist donates travel-sized toothpaste and toothbrushes.

Falkenberg said people who are donating the backpacks and purses sometimes even donate them full of toiletries and other necessities.

“They’re going up to dollar stores and Pharmasave and Shoppers and they’re filling them with little toiletries, little shavers, toothbrushes, toothpaste.”

But, Falkenberg said, some people who aren’t able to donate both toiletries and a bag will choose between the two.

“They’ll give me Ziploc bags of those (the travel packs) that I can put in the purses and backpacks if people aren’t able to afford to stuff a backpack,” said Falkenberg.

Falkenberg said the family usually distributes the donated items between Dec. 20-23.

Those who would like to help out can contact Falkenberg at 604-803-3489.

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