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GET OUT AND GIVE BACK/ In the Bag, the Chanel handbag

Jane Hess Collins
By Jane Hess Collins
Posted on Dec 16,2010
Filed Under News , Community,

Courtesy of Chanel
Courtesy of Chanel

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - My secret guilty pleasure, aside from watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” is to own a Chanel handbag.
It will be big, bright red and have those quilted, interlocking C’s.
Every once in awhile I see one at a boutique. I slip it on my shoulder when the clerk isn’t looking and admire myself in the mirror, wondering if I’m wearing the bag or if the bag is wearing me.
Then I look at the price, and after picking myself up off of the floor, I think about the hundreds of people that could be served if I donated that money to charity.
So my red Chanel stays on my wish list, right up there with that vacation to the moon that everyone’s talking about and no-calorie Haagen-Dazs.
Then last weekend I volunteered at a Gifts that Give Fair ( that combines shopping with good causes in two ways.
First, the vendors were all nonprofit organizations whose gifts for sale supported their work. The Batwa Baskets table overflowed with woven baskets from a pygmy tribe in Africa and the Land of a Thousand Hills table sold fair-trade coffee from Rwanda that promoted healing between the Hutus and Tutsis.
The Giving Circle of Hope, who sponsored the fair, sold hand-painted wine glasses and holiday ornaments, and jewelry made by homeless and low-income women.
If you still found nothing for the person who has everything, the fair offered virtual gifts. Each shopper received a list of the nonprofits represented at the gift fair, with a list of needs that a donation could support. It was like Black Friday for charity. Even ten dollars could buy a case of macaroni and cheese for a hungry family, and every virtual gift came with a holiday card that explained the donation.
My pen shopped til it dropped as I bought coffee, a necklace, weekend food packs for two kids who are eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches and a Flashes of Hope family portrait for a child coping with cancer.
As I bought virtual and real gifts, I kept wandering back to the handbag table. The vendor represented Step Ahead, a small nonprofit based outside of Bangkok that teaches trade skills to girls who were either rescued from trafficking or need an economic alternative to prostitution.
One handbag was navy blue and made of woven leather strips like those high-end Italian designer ones. According to the chatty lady behind the table, all proceeds from the handbag sales go directly back to Step Ahead. (I googled them when I got home to verify).
Every jeans-wearing girl needs a good navy bag, right? And I needed a Christmas present for me, after all.
I love my new handbag. And I’ve helped a young girl or two on the other side of the world experience hope, choice and a chance at economic freedom.
So what if it’s not a Chanel? It’s better.
Get out and give back.
Jane Hess Collins is a former Air Force colonel who helps and encourages people to give back through her writing, speaking, coaching and workshops. She also established game nights for at-risk families throughout the country. You can contact her at
Giving circle of Hope:
Batwa Baskets:
Step Ahead:

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