|That designer purse sitting on the shelf in your closet can change the life of a woman trying to escape from sex trafficking. That’s the message local nonprofit One Purse wants every woman to know. It started with a lightbulb moment by founder and CEO Heather Case. She was waffling between buying or not buying a designer purse at a local upscale consignment store, wanting it but also conflicted that her family just scaled back to one income after she paused her 15-year career in the financial industry to become a full-time mom to her four kids. That’s when she had a thought that the money for just one purse could make a difference in the life of a woman in very different circumstances.
That’s how Case started One Purse 10 years ago. She started the charity out of her home, inviting different groups of women -- friends, Bible study groups, moms’ groups, etc. -- to come over and each bring a designer purse they no longer used. Everyone at the event got to trade for a different purse that someone else had brought and then write a check to One Purse as a donation. Case would then donate the profits to organizations that helped women and children.
As time went on, she started to gravitate toward helping sex trafficking victims. That’s when she saw a gap in the continuum of care and assistance. Director of Philanthropy and Communications Nicole Millard explains that the women who escape from sex trafficking need a lot of assistance with trauma therapy, safe housing, medical care and in many cases rehabilitation from drug addiction. But they also need a path forward – skills training to make a new life.
“These women lack marketable skills, but they also don’t have a professional or personal network like you or me. Most of them come from very unstable or abusive homes to begin with. Their only network is the sex trafficking ring they just left, and that’s why many will get pulled back into that world and re-exploited.”
One Purse evolved its operations to help fill that gap, providing scholarships to vocational and trade programs, mentoring and even employing survivors directly.
Since 2016, One Purse has awarded scholarships to more than 200 survivors. “Every woman we give scholarships to has been vetted and referred by a partner organization, so we know that they are ready for this next step. They want to lead a stable and independent life,” says Millard. One Purse now accepts donations of gently used designer purses and resells them online. “Our audience is millions, and the bags sell so quickly. So, our big need is always inventory,” says Millard.
They offer a work therapy program called the Repurpose Project. Millard says the survivors hired by One Purse have full responsibility for doing all of the work to resell: intake and prepping, photographing, pricing, listing, marketing, communicating with buyers and shipping, while also being able to work for an employer that is sensitive to their trauma and recovery process. She explains that some women aren’t ready for a job where others aren’t aware of their trauma and needs. The program gives them a safe place to be, an income, teaches them skills, and allows flexibility for their therapy and recovery.
“The more we collect, the more we sell, the more survivors we can employ and help,” says Millard
“We also do a mentorship program for survivors that teaches heart and life skills. We just did our first filming last Saturday and are on our way to taking the mentorship program national – making it available to any survivor anywhere in the U.S.,” says Millard.
Millard notes that the number of women in need is staggering. Orlando is one of the top places in the country for sex trafficking. Millard explains that the combination of being a big convention destination and having an international airport unfortunately makes it an ideal place for these rings to operate.
Their entire revenue stream is generated by re-selling purses, and the organization is currently promoting a 1,000 Bag Challenge, asking women from not just Orlando, but anywhere in the country to donate a purse and help save a woman from sex trafficking. Millard says so many women have at least one bag in their closet that they hardly ever or never use, but it could be used to change a life. To find out more, visit www.onepurse.org or email Nicole Millard at email@example.com