A room in Sunshine Hospital is packed with handbags of all shapes and sizes. Why? They are part of a program devised by care co-ordinator Diane Neri to provide dignity to women in need.

By donating to the Greatest Need Project, you too can help vulnerable and disadvantaged patients with essential items that most of us take for granted – like toiletries, a taxi home from hospital, or even a washing machine.

WHEN Sunshine Hospital senior social worker Diane Neri met a distraught patient who had jumped out of a car to flee domestic violence, she was spurred to help.

But it wasn’t just the traditional support that was required.

The woman landed at the emergency department empty handed, so desperate to get away from her abuser that she had left her handbag and son’s Christmas presents in the car.

“Her husband had been abusing her while she was driving and she literally jumped out of the car at the intersection,” recalls Ms Neri, the emergency department’s care co-ordinator.

“She ran for help and came in to the emergency department with horrific facial injuries.

“This lady had nothing – no handbag or basic items, she’d become incontinent due to the stress and had no spare underwear, and the one thing she asked for – a clean pair of underpants – I couldn’t give her.

“So I purchased a few sets of underwear and realised that there was probably a lot more that we could do.”

She began researching online and contacted a not-for-profit organisation called Handbags with Dignity, who donate women’s hand bags and other items to women in need.

The organisation had never been contacted by a hospital before but were happy to help, she says.

Now, six months on, a room in the emergency department brims with handbags, lovingly packed with makeup, toiletries, sanitary products and underwear for women in situations like homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and domestic violence.

Some have even included books and touching notes of inspiration penned by their former owners.

So far, 60 bags have been donated to the hospital, helping women regain a slice of their dignity.

“You can’t underestimate how important it is for a woman to feel like a woman again,” she says.

“These are belongings that most of us take for granted but can have such an impact.

“We’ve given out 20 bags so far and the women are just overwhelmed – they’ve felt worthless.”

She says no matter how long she’s in the job, the cases she handles never cease to affect her.

Like the African woman whose husband from an arranged marriage kept her hostage at home, and recently fractured her cheek with a fence paling.

She begged him to take her to hospital, and he only agreed if she pretended not to speak English.

The woman was so concerned for her two-year-old son’s safety that she sent him back to Africa, but felt trapped in the marriage as she didn’t want to bring shame on her family by leaving.

“We see women living with domestic violence who have sustained horrific injuries,” she says sadly.

She’s now planning to extend the program to include pre-paid mobile phones, swags and blankets.

“It’s something I’m passionate about – as a health service, we provide an excellent service for people with physical needs, but need to do more for emotional and social issues,” she says.

“That’s changing as we become more and more aware of them.

“We have given some swags out already – there are people who for whatever reason have rejected crisis accommodation as they’ve had a negative experience and don’t want to go back.

“At the very least a swag can provide them with some warmth and protection.”

The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.

As a staff member, Diane Neri is sharing her story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.

By making a donation on Diane’s behalf – and sharing her story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.


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