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Aug 05, 2015 | Carol E. Barnwell

St. George's, Austin Provides Care Through Comfort Bags

Comfort bags are providing more than a few necessities for women in the Austin area who have suffered sexual violence. St. George’s, Austin, began sewing and filling the bags with toiletries given by nurse advocates who accompany victims to the hospital for medical examinations following a sexual assault.

 

The nurse advocate, part of the program offered by SafePlace, helps explain what to expect, comforts and consoles the victim. They are available whenever needed. The comfort bags let a woman who is most vulnerable, know she is not alone and that there are people in the community who care about her. The comfort bags have also transformed the job of the nurse advocates and puts a softer edge on a very clinical part of a violent event.

 

Sarah Campbell, a member of St. George’s and former outreach coordinator for the church, said members gather two or three times annually to sew and fill the brightly colored bags with shampoo, soap, tooth paste and toothbrushes, a notebook and pen, emery board, lip gloss, M&Ms, and a brush and comb. Each bag also includes a handwritten note with the church’s name. The first time they made the bags 15 months ago, they made a few dozen. On Mother’s Day weekend this year, they made 135. Sadly, SafePlace reports a need for an average of one bag a day.

 

“The response, from both the advocates and the victims, has been heartwarming,” Campbell said. One victim wept when told how the church members prepare the bags, then prays over each one. Campbell received an email recently from a recipient that said, “You don’t know how important this bag was and how much it meant, [that] someone in the community cares is a powerful message.”

 

“We needed something to really connect us with our outreach and this program has touched everyone,” Campbell said. “We have people who sew, or shop for items and others who help fill the bags and write notes to the recipients. Recently someone who was visiting from Arkansas stayed to help us after the Sunday service and said he would take the idea back home with him for his church,” she added.

 

Following a fundraising luncheon at SafePlace a few years ago, Campbell asked how the church could help the agency. Ixchel Morrison, SafePlace’s sexual assault advocacy manager, said her main wish would be for comfort bags to provide for the immediate needs of victims following their medical exam. When Campbell began the program, she had no idea it would take on so much energy or have so much impact, both on the church members who help support the ministry or the recipients.

 

“Nothing is harder than to keep volunteers inspired,” Campbell said. “But this project seems to have done that.”

 

SafePlace began as the first rape crisis center and first shelter in Texas. The Austin Rape Crisis Center and the Center for Battered Women joined in 1998 to form SafePlace, to provide safety for individuals and families affected by sexual and domestic violence. The group promotes safe and healthy relationships and works to create change in attitudes, behaviors and policies that perpetuate the acceptance of sexual and domestic violence.

 

The campus of SafePlace supports immediate needs of survivors through the 24-hour hotline, shelter and counseling services, they now include programs that educate, build awareness and work with children of survivors to move beyond the violence in their lives.

 

If you would like to begin a similar ministry at your church or help St. George’s in their comfort bag ministry, contact Campbell at

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