Purses for a Purpose opens their first DC chapter
AU sophomore brings her nonprofit to DC to help end homelessness
Homeless people in D.C. have been given a new source of support through the efforts of an American University student and her nonprofit, Purses for a Purpose.
Shayna Rutman, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, started a nonprofit organization named Purses for a Purpose in 2019. Rutman, the CEO of Purses for a Purpose, said that an idea that started in San Diego with her dad during the coronavirus pandemic has since moved her operations to D.C. There are currently locations in San Diego, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Philadelphia and New Haven, along with the newest branch in D.C.
When she was a junior in high school, Rutman said her dad showed her a Facebook ad about giving away old purses instead of selling them while they were at dinner. This conversation eventually grew into the start of Purses for a Purpose.
Purses for a Purpose receives donations from the community of gently used purses and travel sized toiletries to be packaged and given to homeless women.
“We just started spreading the word on social media,” Rutman said. “We were asking for donations from family and friends, neighbors, just the community, and then I was reaching out to like a lot of homeless advocacy organizations.”
According to their website, Purses for a Purpose is committed “to raising awareness about the ever-growing homeless crisis” and doing their part to help women in need.
The organization grew rapidly from a viral TikTok Rutman posted in July 2020 that showed the “first purse that was ever distributed.”
“She’s the first woman that comes up to my stand, and she saw the Coach purse that matches her wallet,” Rutman said, recounting the story from when she started her organization. “She was just a beautiful woman that just really reminded me and always reminds me every day that this is what the goal is. This is gonna help a lot of people.”
From there Rutman built a website and began to realize as more donations came in that this had become more than just a quarantine project; this could be a real organization.
Starting this past summer, Rutman and her team — which includes another AU student, Katharine Bishop, a sophomore in the Kogod School of Business; the CFO; and treasurer of the organization, have been working to achieve 501(c)(3) status so they can receive grants and donations from larger companies like Michael Kors and Johnson & Johnson.
Bishop said that she and Rutman have been working on launching the organization’s D.C. branch and partnering with Thrive DC to make that happen. Homelessness in D.C. is on the rise, with the rates of homelessness at about two times the national average with over 6,000 people left on the streets.
Working on this nonprofit has instilled within Rutman the importance of treating all people humanely regardless of where they are coming from, she said.
Iqra Irfan, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles who runs the LA branch, shared a similar sentiment regarding the major impact Purses for a Purpose has had on shaping her point of view as well.
“It really opened my eyes to how severe the issue of homelessness is,” Irfan said. “As a person, it has left me more grateful for the things that I have and the people around me and the roof over my head because a lot of people don't get that.”
Rutman encouraged American University students to get involved in the semester-long drive happening on campus, where anyone can drop off travel-sized toiletries and moderately sized purses to the bin in Kay Spiritual Life Center.