Pack-a-Purse: An Easy Way to Give Back to a Forgotten Cause

Tuscaloosa is home to countless opportunities to give back to the community. Nonprofits, churches, businesses and schools can be found hosting fundraisers and awareness events across town year-round that benefit one cause or another. Many of these causes are high-profile crises like disaster relief, child literacy, and animal rights. However, there are some causes that do not receive such a magnitude of attention yet still warrant ample support. One of these such programs is the Pack-a-Purse drive, put on by the University of Alabama’s Women and Gender Resource Center. This toiletry drive seeks to provide women who are just getting out of prison with a bag that takes care of some of their basic necessities as they reenter society. Those wanting to donate can drop off items at the Women and Gender Resource Center in South Lawn Office Building from now until Feb. 16. Pack-a-Purse is a program started by Montgomery-based organization Aid to Inmate Mothers. The Pack-a-Purse drive offers the campus community and beyond an opportunity to give back to a group that often goes unnoticed.

“One of my favorite things [about Pack-a-Purse] is that you don’t have to have a lot of money to be able to give something back,” said Program Coordinator Paige Miller. Situated on UA’s campus, the Women and Gender Resource Center seeks to be accessible to students, faculty and staff regardless of financial status. Contributions of shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, feminine products, lotions and many other items are welcome from any member of the community. More information on donations can be found on the AIM website,

In 2016, when the Women and Gender Resource Center began the Pack-a-Purse drive, it was able to donate around 25 bags. Last year, it packed 53 bags. Miller aims to sustain around 50 bags and hopes to increase their impact even more.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it would add up to a lot,” Miller said. “We’re hoping just to give those women a little bit of a basic need—basic necessities that they can start out with, and the money that have, they can use on more important things.”

“That way, when women in Alabama are being released from prison, they have at least one thing.” Miller said. In the Alabama prison system, 23.3% of women return to prison within three years of release, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections 2016 Annual Report. Pack-a-Purse along with other AIM programs seek to lower this statistic. Among the women who participated in AIM programs, the recidivism rate was down to only 11%. Reintegration into society after prison is a rarely discussed struggle, and AIM’s goals are to help women beat the odds and give them opportunities to become productive and successful members of society.

Aside from raising awareness about inmate mothers and women leaving the prison system, the Women and Gender Resource Center has evolved its programming to include more education and advocacy projects as well as volunteer opportunities for those wanting to help.

“A part of the mission of the Women & Gender Resource Center is that we want for each student to experience the most opportunities on campus and in the world.” Miller said. “To make sure that every person, which includes people of all genders, has an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams, or their education, or whatever it is that they need.”

“Providing knowledge, information, education to the community is to me one of the most important things that we can do.”

Miller’s focus is not only on programming like Pack-a-Purse, but also on raising awareness about gender issues. She hosts programs like Start Smart that teach college women how to negotiate salaries and benefits when they enter the workforce. The Women and Gender Resource Center also organizes awareness events for global women’s issues and International Women’s Day, mentoring programs for children in the community and also an annual film festival. A great deal of planning goes into these events, so volunteers are always needed in a variety of fields. Miller encourages people to come by the Women and Gender Resource Center, drop off a donation for Pack-a-Purse, and see what it has to offer. The center is home to a library where books and DVDs are available for check out and volunteer forms are available for application. Visit their website for forms and more information at



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