Grand Marais—It takes creative and determined minds like those on the board of Oddz & Endz to turn a problem of excess into a project that repurposes unwanted items for positive impact.
Oddz & Endz is a non-profit business in Grand Marais that sells repurposed furniture and household goods. When the store acquired a large quantity of purses and handbags—too many to realistically sell—the board wanted to do something meaningful with the extras.
While discussing possible uses for the bags and considering local venues or organizations to support, the idea to aid victims of domestic violence struck.
“It was just kind of like a bolt of lightning from somewhere,” Oddz & Endz board member EvaLyn Carlson said. “When women have to leave with their children, and they run, they leave without anything. They go to a shelter and will get a bag with the essential things that they need. But we can do something with the purses, something a little extra special, something that says it’s ok, there are people here who care about you.”
Carlson, who has a background in human services and ministry, is also a board member for the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais. She suggested the Center to be an appropriate recipient of the bags and the board agreed.
“We’ve made up six purses that we gave to Violence Prevention as our trial run,” Carlson said, “and they were very pleased with the things we had put in them.”
Each bag is unique and holds a variety of goods—a flashlight, pencil and notepad, soap, shampoo and cleanser, toothbrush and toothpaste, combs and brushes, and other personal care items. Many of them contain donated handmade items such as knitted scarves or felted mittens for the winter bags.
As the project idea transformed and organizations such as the Salvation Army contributed items to the cause where needed, the store wondered who could help assemble the bags. Arvis Thompson is the director for the Girl Scouts in Cook County and suggested the girls work together on the purse project as a part of their current badge topic and service requirement.
“We asked the girls if they would help us,” Thompson said. “We just did a badge on diversity and the fourth component is compassion, so the purses will fit into the piece on learning about compassion and as a service project.”
The girls were enthusiastic about the idea and the opportunity to be involved. They will finish the bags in mid-April.
“They loved it and have all been really supportive,” Carlson said. “We will be working with the girls to write a note that goes into each purse. The notes will say something like, ‘I’m sorry you’ve been hurt’ or ‘We care about you.’ That extra little thing that can bring a smile or hope.”
Along with filling the bags and writing notes, the Girl Scouts will participate in an educational component facilitated by Violence Prevention Center staff member Marybeth Wilkes.
“She is going to come and help educate the girls on what they are doing,” Carlson said. “She will be talking about violence prevention, about safe houses, and about domestic violence. At the very end, we will be working with the girls to write the notes.”
Thompson and Carlson are hopeful of the educational impact this project will have both for the Girl Scouts and the community.
“We are concentrating on having appreciation for people being different, everything from the way you look to how you’re feeling,” Thompson said.
“One of the things that I hope to see is a greater awareness of the needs for people that are involved in domestic violence and the fact that we have resources here that can help with that,” Carlson said. “It has struck me that there are a lot of people that don’t understand what Violence Prevention does; They work in the school and they are there for people who are in need.”
This echoes the mission of Oddz & Endz to be a vital resource in the community.
“One of our missions is to meet the needs of the community in a whole variety of ways,” Thompson said. “One of the things that I hope this project would do for the community is to let our donators know that we are respecting what they donate to us and trying to find practical ways to use the volume of things that we sometimes get.”
The store seeks to repurpose, reuse, and repair; to be conscious of the impact of waste and be resourceful in their service to customers and the community.
“As soon as you help people see beyond, then they get really creative,” Thompson said. “And we’re not afraid to tackle anything.”
The purse project is evidence of this philosophy. The collaboration has become a movement to support and encourage, to impart knowledge of social justice issues and environmental mindfulness, and to provide resources for positive change.—Linden Figgie