The Gift of Giving for the Girls

You may have caught Verve co-editor Fran Ninow on TV show The Project at the tail-end of November, rightly glowing about the magazine’s Gift A Bag (#giftabagthisxmas) campaign that’s been running the past few months having passed the wonderful milestone of more than one thousand donations.


“Jude [Mitchell, co-editor] actually came back from the States last year with the idea, but it was too late to do anything about it, so we put in the diary for this year,” says Fran. “We began in September, inviting our readers to bring in handbags that were gathering dust at the back of the wardrobe, and fill them with necessities and toiletries for women and girls, maybe adding a little gift and a note for Christmas. We’ve had an amazing response.”


L-R: Christine Cormack, Fran Ninow, Colleen Simpson, and Jude Mitchell


The bags are being donated to Auckland City Mission and Women’s Refuge. Last Christmas, an investigation in Noted concluded women bear a disproportionate brunt of poverty at Christmas, with those who are struggling likely to be aged 20-40 with five or more people in the household. A quarter tend to more than seven.


According to the Child Poverty Monitor, 27 percent of Kiwi kids live in households suffering income poverty (classed as less than 60 percent of the median contemporary income), while seven percent—that’s 80,000 children—are growing up in severe hardship. Chris Farrelly of Auckland City Mission says that many women make huge sacrifices “bringing up their children, and other people’s children, on their own”, and, for the majority of the 8,000 children they give presents to, it will be the only gift they receive over the holidays.


Jude was recently contacted by Colleen Simpson, who, though suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy, loved the Verve campaign so much she wanted to jump on board. And what an asset she has been.


L-R: Maureen Dawson, Colleen Simpson, Monique Doy and Jackie Reeve.


“Colleen wanted to get involved with fundraising and collecting handbags, plus it would take her mind off not feeling well,” Jude says. “Just the other day we went to her house and she was there with six friends and about 350 bags lined up in her lounge. Not only were the bags stuffed full of beautiful products along with a beautiful card to let the women know they were being thought of this Christmas, but her friend in the US had raised $1,000 and got it converted into Pak ’n Save vouchers. It was a gorgeous sight.”


Barfoot & Thompson Remuera and ASB, also inspired by Verve, have between them collected hundreds more handbags brimming with gifts.


“There has been a whole heap of mini-collections,” beams Fran. “I’ve even had two lots of bags delivered anonymously to my house. It just goes to show the power of advertising for it’s hard to tell sometimes how well a magazine’s working, but we’ve had such an amazing response. It’s been overwhelming.”


“We’re very lucky to have the magazine as a vehicle for the project,” adds Jude. “We really didn’t know what to expect, but there’s been over a thousand donations so far and it hasn’t stopped yet. I think it’s fascinating to consider the thought process that’s gone into the packing of each handbag.”


“It’s amazing to think of the journey of the bags too,” Fran says, “maybe beginning life in a Hong Kong factory and winding up, via a woman’s wardrobe, at City Mission putting a smile on someone’s face.”


And what lesson have the magazine bosses learnt along the way?


“The importance of giving, of selflessness,” says Jude. “One woman we met had recently recovered from cancer having lost her adult child in a car accident. She was an inspirational lady, really incredible.”


“If you’re thinking of doing something, then run with it,” says Fran. “You never know where it might lead.”


And the ladies wish to thank everyone who’s lent a hand or given a bag.