May 25th, 2019

Hugs in a Handbag gives women support

By Bobinec, Greg on December 7, 2018.

Herald photo by Greg Bobinec Lucy and Greta Fallwell help Genie Hartwick deliver Hugs in a Handbag to the deserving women at the Lethbridge YWCA Harbour House, Tuesday afternoon. @GBobinecHerald

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

The Lethbridge Soup Sisters have been supporting local organizations in need for many years with fresh homemade soup, but one of their volunteers took it one step further, creating a new campaign to give back to the clients of the organizations this holiday season.

Genie Hartwick, an elementary school teacher in Lethbridge specializing with visually impaired students, wanted to get involved with a volunteer organization, and found a home with Soup Sisters. Following a presentation for Lethbridge YWCA Harbour House, she thought there was something more she could do to help women trying to transition from the abusive situations they were previously in.

“People from Harbour House came to speak with us about the struggles that these women have and I felt like soup was one thing, but I felt that I needed to fill a need where I believe every woman should feel like they are pretty and worthy,” says Hartwick. “I think these women tend to be forgotten. Children always get looked after around Christmas because they are children and we want it to be a happy time for them, but I feel like the mom needs a lift, too, and to not just feel like mom, but to feel like a woman.”

Hugs in a Handbag quickly developed and community members jumped in to help fill gently used handbags with donated beauty and hygiene products, jewelry, gloves, scarves, books, bath items and gift cards. Hartwick and supporters were able to fill 65 handbags with 30 going to the Harbour House and the rest being distributed to the Blackfoot Family Lodge and Wood’s Youth Homes.

Harbour House is a 30-bed crisis unit for women and children involved in abusive intimate partner relationships who seek accommodation, counselling and 24 -hour support. Every year they help over 600 women and children in their facility, and receive approximately 7,500 information calls and 1,750 crisis calls from women.

Working on the handbag project, Hartwick was able to inspire a young girl by the name of Lucy Fallwell who thought it would be a good thing to give back to these women who didn’t have much. Working hard, Lucy and her family were able to put together five handbags to give to the Harbour House clients.

“Lucy and her family filled five purses which is amazing, and Lucy really took control of it,” says Hartwick. “She was looking through the stores and picking out all of the products, jewelry and scarves, and it really stuck her that these women didn’t have anything, so she felt in her heart that this was something that she needed to do, she felt empathy.”

Pushing the giving spirit even further, Hartwick felt like she could help these women in hard situations even more, adding a personalized message of empowerment to every bag, to let them know that someone in the community is out there to support their growth.

“I put a personal note to them to just say things to let these women know that there is somebody out there who really does have empathy for them and care,” says Hartwick. “I am a stranger, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help, and the message on the back is to give them a little bit of a lift to maybe help them transition, or just help them through the day and feel more empowered.”

Harbour House was grateful for the donations from Hartwick, community members and the Lethbridge Soup Sisters, and are always looking for donations of clothing and personal hygiene products for the women and children. For more information on the programs Harbour House offers and how to support the organization, visit For more information about the Lethbridge Soup Sisters, visit

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