2019 JEFFERSON AWARDS: Aledo Woman Makes Difference Through Purses, Story Books

She gives purses purpose for those who need them the most.

Deb Bowen started her "Purses With Purpose" project in 2016, when she decided to host a purse party.

"I just put a post on Facebook and said - 'Will my friends meet me and bring a purse they're no longer using and fill it with things people need?'" she explained. "We got 144 purses that day."

Three years later, that number has grown to more than 3,000 and now includes purses for girls/women as well as bags for boys/men, filled with the essentials like shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and more... and given to people who are homeless or in need.

"You feel so alone when you’re struggling," said Deb. "I mean, we’ve all been through hard times. I don’t care to what level. We’ve all been through it, so to know that somebody is thinking about you and put some things in a purse for you... it’s just amazing to think what a difference it makes for them to know they’re being thought about. Somebody sees them struggle."

The great success of her purse project inspired Deb to create her outreach organization called Love Like Lorraine. It's a tribute to her mother who lived through The Great Depression.

She had a lot of tragedy and a lot of hard times, but she was such a loving, giving person," Deb described. "It made me angry as a kid, when she would say no to me in the store – 'You don’t need that' - and it was always the word 'need.' Then, I would see her give money or write a check or whatever to someone that we didn’t even know. I didn’t understand it as a kid, but I certainly understood it as an adult."

Getting more kids to understand that is the other part of Deb's mission. In 2003, she started A Book By Me - which gets students to help her share people's stories.

"There's Holocaust stories, there's a lot of hero stories, and there's a lot of human rights stories," said Deb. "I want to build compassion. I want to build that muscle in students and adults. We don’t tend to think about what other people have been through or are going through."

There's also the story of Al Taylor,  a local Pearl Harbor survivor who opened Deb's eyes up to the reality of homelessness in our area.

"He’s passed now, but he was talking about how hungry he was and the struggles that he had and working for his family and then his dad started being abusive towards him and he ran away, was a homeless youth and I started thinking about all the homeless youth we have here in the Quad Cities – kids who are couch surfing – I hear about it all the time in schools and I thought – I gotta do something for them."

75 books and more than 3,000 purses later, Deb is definitely doing something.

"She has always been very interested in helping people that maybe have been forgotten," said Kathryn Bohn, who decided to nominate Deb for the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that celebrates public service and the people in our communities who are changing lives.

"It`s always about giving back and letting people know they are loved and cared about," she added.

To Deb - it's about living her mother's legacy by being the giver her mom was. "Give For Good" is a slogan of the Jefferson Awards Foundation and Deb, now a 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominee, is passing down how one person can make a difference.

"I'm becoming my mother," she laughed. "There's a time in every women's life where they say that, right?"

To learn more about Love Like Lorraine, click here.

To learn more about A Book By Me, click here.

To learn more about the Jefferson Awards Foundation, click here.

Every Tuesday in January and February, WQAD News 8 is introducing you to our 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominees. Then, in April, we will announce our Jefferson Awards Finalist. That person gets to attend the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this June and meet other Jefferson Awards Finalists from across the country.

The Jefferson Awards are sponsored locally by Genesis Health System and Budget Blinds.

To see who was nominated in all four previous seasons of the Jefferson Awards on WQAD News 8, click here.

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