Gift of pocketbooks lifts spirit of homeless and abused women

Gift of pocketbooks lifts spirit of homeless and abused women
December 10
00:00 2015
Photos courtesy of Alisha Byrd
Alisha Byrd, left, and Dr. Nicole Sherrill-Corry are shown with some of the donated pocketbooks.
WSSU grad, department partner for project
By Laurie D. Willis
Special to The Chronicle

SALISBURY – The way Alisha Byrd sees it, you never know what’s going to lift someone’s spirits – especially someone who’s been verbally, mentally or physically abused.

So Byrd, a Salisbury native who’s authored two books and founded Gemstones Academy, is collecting gently used pocketbooks for battered women. Her plan is to fill them with toiletry items and distribute them to shelters in Rowan and surrounding counties.

“I saw a posting on Facebook that suggested people fill pocketbooks with toiletry items and hand them to homeless women on the street,” Byrd said. “I took that information and decided to create an initiative I think will be more meaningful, and I’m calling it ‘Pocketbooks with a Purpose.’

“Pocketbooks with a Purpose isn’t just about homeless women, but it is also about women who’ve been abused and whose self-esteem has been shattered,” Byrd continued. “Many of them are looking for love, answers, support, encouragement, respect, confidence, freedom, joy, peace, strength and protection. By no means can I offer them all of those things, but I can offer them a pocketbook filled with necessary items to let them know someone cares.”

Byrd is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University and has an MBA from Strayer University. She’s partnered with officials at Family Crisis Center in Salisbury and at Winston-Salem State University’s Department of Interpersonal Violence Prevention for her initiative.

“I’m excited they think it’s a worthwhile endeavor,” Byrd said. “I’m grateful to them for working with me to ensure the pocketbooks are given to women who need them.”

Byrd’s been collecting pocketbooks since October and has amassed more than 100 bags. Gemstones students are helping her collect them.

Founded in 2015, Gemstones Academy is for boys and girls in 5th through 12th grades and stresses integrity, leadership, responsibility and scholarship while exposing them to community service projects and individuals who’ve become successful despite the odds.

“I’m not setting a deadline on donations because I want to give away pocketbooks year-round,” Byrd said. “However, I plan to give the bulk of them away the week before Christmas.”

Leigh Ellington of Salisbury learned about Pocketbooks with a Purpose on Byrd’s Facebook page. The women have been friends for a long time.

“I wanted to pitch in to help Alisha,” Ellington said. “I think what she’s doing is great.”

When people donate items, they sometimes give old merchandise or things of little value. But Ellington, human resources director for Salisbury-based Sharp Transit, did just the opposite: She donated a peach-colored Coach bag, a light-brown Michael Kors bag and money.

“I’d had them for only six months,” Ellington said of the expensive designer bags. “I did it because I’d like to see somebody in need have a brand new pocketbook. Helping people is a passion of mine just like it is Alisha’s. Women love pocketbooks and shoes, and receiving pocketbooks with toiletries will put smiles on their faces.”

So far, pocketbooks have come from Byrd’s family members and friends, parents of her Gemstones students and members of her church, Dorsett Chapel United Church of Christ in Spencer. Byrd is grateful for the pocketbooks but said now she’s in need of toiletries.

“Sometimes when women leave abusive situations, they leave with only the clothes on their backs,” she said. “They don’t think about necessary items they should take, but instead focus solely on getting out. When the dust settles and they end up at a shelter or at the home of a relative, friend or co-worker, that’s when they realize they need toiletry items.”

Byrd knows pocketbooks and toiletries can’t erase the pain of abuse, but she’s hoping the bags and useful items will help raise the recipients’ self-esteem. And Christmas, she said, is the perfect time to buoy someone’s spirits.

“What Ms. Byrd is doing is wonderful,” said Donna Miller, executive director of Esther House in Stanly County, a domestic violence/sexual assault center that provides shelter and other services. “The women who come to us seeking help in many cases have been told no one cares about them, and they’ve been isolated. I’m sure this initiative will brighten many days and turn frowns into smiles.”

Miller said facilities like hers typically see an increase in calls during the holidays, and Byrd’s kindness will have a positive impact.

Byrd said her goal is simple: bring joy to others as her maternal grandmother Minnie Byrd taught her to do.

“Spending Christmas in a shelter away from those you love has to be a desolate feeling,” Byrd said. “I want to share the pocketbooks and toiletries with women who’ve been abused because everybody deserves happiness, particularly at Christmas. I’m glad God put Pocketbooks with a Purpose on my heart, and I’m grateful to Leigh Ellington, Vanessa Chunn, Kisha Lilly, Le Kishja Mabry, Anitra Kelly, Dr. Nicole Sherrill-Corry and others who’ve contributed pocketbooks. I just hope we’ll accumulate enough toiletry items to fill them all.”

Want to donate? Pocketbooks, toiletries or monetary donations can be dropped off at 121 West Council Street, Suite 202, in downtown Salisbury or mailed to Post Office Box 484, Salisbury, N.C. 28145. Byrd can be reached at 704-762-1445. 


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