Social Holiness Concerns: Supporting Assault Survivors in New York
December 3, 2018 / By Angela Eardley, President f the United Methodist Women at First United Methodist Church in Oneonta,
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on page 14 in the November 2018 issue of the United Methodist Women’s publication, Response. The pastor mentioned in article is the Rev. Dr. Teressa Sivers, at that time the pastor of First UMC Oneonta, now Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s UMC, Ithaca.
I work for a domestic violence shelter. I recently spent nine hours in the emergency room with a woman who had been drugged and physically and sexually assaulted, helping provide her support as she endured invasive exams and hours of questioning. The police took all of her personal belongings, including her phone and sneakers, as evidence, and she was given paper clothing and slipper socks to wear home.
I scurried around the ER to find some more appropriate clothing for her. With the help of a nurse, I was able to find more acceptable clothes. I pleaded with the investigators to take whatever evidence they needed from her shoes and give them back to her, and they thank- fully agreed. She was then placed in a cab for the 30-mile journey home, stripped of dignity and self-worth.
As I drove home my heart was heavy. Tears rolled down my cheeks. How in the world can we let this happen? I was determined not to let one more woman leave an ER this way again.
I met with my pastor and my United Methodist Women sisters at First United Methodist Church in Oneonta, New York, and the Purple Bag Project was born. We called it the Purple Bag Project because purple is the color of domestic violence and sexual assault awareness (but to protect and respect survivors, none of our bags are the color purple).
Each bag includes sweatshirt and sweatpants, T-shirt, bra, underwear, socks, sneakers, pen and notepad, notes of encouragement, and person-al care products such as tampons, pads, hair ties, combs and the like. Bags are organized by color to indicate different clothing and shoe sizes—red small, blue medium, etc. When the project was announced, donations quickly came pouring in. I met with the woman who directs nurses’ training in local emergency rooms, and she put me in contact with trained personnel at three area hospitals. We are now providing the clothing bags to three emergency rooms in Otsego and Schoharie counties.
The First Oneonta United Methodist Women really stepped up, not just with donations but as ER liaisons and with assembly of the bags. United Methodist Women members pray over each bag after it is assembled. Liasons help us know when the ERs need more bags.
The support that we have received just from our church alone has been in- credible. We received a $2,500 grant from the Patrick Ministry, we were part of the Alternate Giving Program during the holiday season and we had a collection taken in our honor during Advent. The congregation has been donating without even being asked.
A few months ago I walked into a store and met eyes with the woman be- hind the counter. We spoke no words but both shed a tear. She mouthed “thank you” and blew me a kiss. I smiled and nodded at this woman who inspired the Purple Bag Project, and I left, determined to continue to put faith, hope and love into action