Victoria woman draws on experience to help others find joy with purse project

Foraging for resources, then placing them where they’re needed is a passion for Ashley Lewis.

While she now lives in Victoria, the former Oak Bay resident remains active in both communities, and beyond. At the start of the pandemic, Lewis joined the multitude of online mutual aid groups.

As the social media groups evolved over time, she was inspired by what others were doing in the community to start her own initiative.

Personally not feeling great and not doing well, she wanted to do something for others struggling, experiencing disabilities and health challenges exacerbated by isolation.

“(I was looking for) a way to make people feel good when they don’t have much because they’re low income,” Lewis explained.

In June, she started the Victoria Purse Project, open to those in need, she stuffed donated purses with self-care items such as lotion, toiletries, and maybe a scarf or piece of jewelry. She made a gift bag of the purse, then gifted it. Through word of mouth, she was able to donate several to women undergoing treatment in the oncology ward at Royal Jubilee Hospital.

The project has only grown.

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In the fall, Lewis hosted a free boutique. “The project has received really positive responses from community members as well as recipients and I hope to see it grow and continue to uplift spirits and bring a bit of joy to vulnerable individuals in our community.”

Since the holidays can be an especially tough time, especially among the demographic she hopes to help, a second free boutique is set for Dec. 18 from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Fernwood Community Centre, 1240 Gladstone Ave.

It will include a shop where anyone in need can pick up presents for kids and loved ones, or a treat for those who can’t afford something for themselves over the holiday. The shop will include new and gently used items for all members of the family from clothing to art supplies, games and toys. The event is low barrier, for those with low income, based on honesty.

“You show up with honesty and integrity and we all take what we need and leave what we don’t for others,” Lewis said.

Guests are asked to RSVP on Facebook under Purse Project Victoria B.C. Anyone in need of help or feeling a need to provide help can message Lewis there or email

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