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Family continues legacy left by Purses Filled with Love founder

Click to play video 'Family continues Purses Filled with Love campaign despite founder’s death' Family continues Purses Filled with Love campaign despite founder’s death
This week marks the kickoff of the fifth annual Purses Filled with Love campaign. Although the founder isn't here to celebrate the milestone, Sarah Ryan explains how her family is making sure her legacy lives on – Oct 20, 2020

Purses Filled with Love is turning five years old this week, but its founder isn’t around to celebrate the campaign’s milestone.

Aimed at helping the less fortunate ahead of Christmas, Purses Filled with Love are gifts handed out to Edmontonians in need, through churches, women’s shelters, and social agencies.

Darlene Gauthier started the initiative in 2016, as a way of giving thanks to God for saving her daughter, Lacey MacMillan, when she was brutally stabbed in the neck and nearly died.

In 2017 Darlene shared her passion project with Global News for the first time.

“[There were] five purses hanging on my door, collecting dust. And I thought, ‘Geez, I could fill those purses with love and hand them out to the less fortunate’.”
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Each year, Purses Filled with Love grew, and in 2019 Darlene handed out 500 purses to Edmonton’s less fortunate.

Before she could launch her fifth annual campaign, Darlene died unexpectedly after having an enlarged thyroid and choking.

Her passing left her family reeling.

“After a couple days of grief, one of the only things I could think of was – what about the organization? What about the charity? What’s going to happen?” her grandson, Anthony Giroux, said.

He decided to take it upon himself to see that Purses Filled with Love continued, announcing at Darlene’s funeral that he would step up to fill her shoes.

“I will make sure that this charity always recognizes who started it — my grandma, the purse lady,” he said.

For Darlene’s daughter Lacey MacMillan, Purses Filled with Love is the legacy her mom leaves behind.

“Because my mom loved this so much, it was her baby — I know she’d want us to continue it for her,” she said.

Darlene’s generous spirit has not gone unnoticed, even after her death. Strangers are now stepping up to help with the donation efforts, including staff at the funeral home where her service was held.

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“Our manager here helped the Gauthier family arrange her funeral and he was just telling us what she had done and the wonderful things she got started,” funeral director Michelle Sauve explained.

“So I thought, well we might as well just go ahead and be a depot site, I mean — why wouldn’t we want to continue that wonderful legacy that she left?”

Trinity Funeral Home is open seven days a week and donations can be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 10530 116 Street.

WATCH: ‘Pack a Purse, Pay it Forward’ helps vulnerable woman in Edmonton

In addition, long-time supporter Roni Gauthier from Pay it Forward says her group will also continue to support the campaign with donations.

“It’s usually socks, underwear, socks mitts, toques, mitts, hats, scarves. This year we’re going to ask for facemasks and hand sanitizer,” she explained.

MacMillan said her mom called all of her helpers Earth Angels, and noted seeing so many people stepping up to continue Purses Filled with Love is heartwarming.

Donations of new and gently used purses, toiletries, winter clothing, makeup and jewelry will be accepted until the end of November, with the filled purses being handed out mid-December.

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“Christmas will be so hard without her. It’ll give us something to be together and do together as a family,” MacMillan said.

Donations can also be coordinated through email at pursesfilledwithlove@gmail.com