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Need a purse? Grab a bargain for good cause at Purses With a Purpose

By Hilary Trenda
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Kelly DeMario

“There’s change in your purse.”

That clever slogan of Purses With a Purpose summarizes the annual sale of gently used donated handbags that benefits the American Cancer Society.

This brainchild of Kelly DeMario started six years ago as a way to raise money for the local Relay for Life team she was part of.

Uncomfortable asking others for money, even for a reputable cause, DeMario was looking for “an easy ask, something you could ask a girlfriend,” she said.

“Everyone has a purse … We take everything as long as it’s still intact and someone can get a little life and use out of it.”

Purses with a Purpose always holds its annual sale the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend, so this year’s sale will be 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. May 10 at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, 1000 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

That first year, DeMario only asked friends and family for donations. She hosted the sale in her front yard, with hundreds of purses strung on a clothesline. That brought in roughly $1,000 and loads of contacts.

The next year, DeMario tapped those contacts “and it became very organic,” she said. “They asked their girlfriends … we had so many (purses) we moved to my daughter’s preschool.”

By year three, DeMario knew the sale would require a large space. A blurb ran on the evening news and by the end of the night, DeMario said, “There were people lined up, willing to donate space.”

For the next several years, the former Blake Hotel uptown was the site of the sale, and groups would hold “girls’ nights” and book rooms so they could be at the sale first thing, DeMario said. As a Mother’s Day gift, one gentleman sent a friend at midnight the night before to be the first in line, so his wife could have first dibs.

The majority of bags are priced between $10 and $18, and higher-end bags such as Coach and Michael Kors usually sell for $50. But DeMario said it’s the volume of donations that allows them to raise money.

“People think, ‘My purse is from Target or Macy’s; it’s not high-end.’ That’s not what we’re shooting for. So many people just want a cute handbag,” she said. “Prices are very approachable, there’s (even) $1 purses.”

Last year, DeMario and friends lobbied celebrities for their hardly used handbags. Donations came in from Carly Rae Jepsen, Patricia Heaton, Gloria Gaynor, Vivica A. Fox, Catherine Bach, Jane Seymour and Susan Sarandon.

Sound like a recipe for shopping disaster? Thankfully, there’s never been any Black Friday-esque madness or what DeMario calls “purse drama.”

“It’s really funny, people are very strategic.” The first round of shoppers rush through and scoop up anything that remotely strikes their fancy, DeMario said. “They’ll have like 25 purses on their arm.” They’ll meet up with friends and sift through, while “sharks in the water” stand behind them, waiting to start negotiations.

The Purses With a Purpose donation kickoff will be 5-8 p.m. April 10 at The Boulevard in South End, (1440 S. Tryon St.) and will feature wine and nibbles. Those who bring a purse donation will receive 15 percent off any full priced item. (If you can't make it to the kickoff, that offer is good through April 30.)

Or, those with a donation can email to schedule a pickup, arrange to meet/drop off, or take your bags to designated donation spots, such as Boulevard.

For photos, and contact info, check out Hilary Trenda’s blog at cltatyourbest.blogspont.com.
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