A few years ago, and I don’t remember the exact circumstances, I came across this awesome, little project that the Orange YWCA had been doing for several years. It was called, “My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project”. It was originally started by my favorite Councilwoman, Tita Smith’s mom, Joan Hoefs Smith. Basically, the concept is to collect purses that are “gently used” and fill them with stuff like personal hygiene products, or maybe a hankie or nail polish. These purses were and are distributed throughout the shelters in Orange County throughout the year, focusing mainly on Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. Since Christmas, this project has collected over 500 purses and put smiles on many grateful women’s faces!
As I started to write this article, I realized I didn’t know as much about My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project as I thought I did, and I wanted to learn more. So, as I seem to do a lot lately when I need help, I once again turned to Councilwoman Tita for more background on this wonderful project. Joan Hoefs Smith came to Orange in the 1920’s, went to West Orange School and then to Orange Union High School. That is when she learned not only about our Native Americans history, but also sadly learned about the poverty and deplorable conditions they lived in. Deeply concerned about this, Joan took it upon herself to make it her own personal charity to “give back”, to make a difference in the little Indian kids lives that were subjected to living in such poverty on these reservations. Joanie decided she would start collecting dolls at garage sales, wash ‘em up, refurbish them, re-do their hair and outfit each one of these gently loved dolls and box them up with a blanket and send them to the Indian reservations for Christmas gifts.
About fifty years ago, there a fellow named Danny Davey. And like Joanie, he too had the desire to make a difference in others lives. Danny was a UPS driver, but he had a heartfelt desire and passion to provide goods and gifts to our Native Americans. Thus, the Thunderbird Foundation was established. It all began that very first Christmas, when Danny decided to play Santa to all these little kids on the reservation. He loaded up a UPS truck with the dolls, gifts one Christmas and drove it to Arizona. The rest is pretty much history as his efforts grew and grew until there were many, many trucks following him to many of the Indian families every Christmas!
As this project grew and grew, somewhere along the way, Danny’s mom died. She left behind a number of handbags, personal belongings and more. Danny, being a giving man, filled those handbags with his mom’s things and trucked them right on over to the Indian women. These women were thrilled, and can you just imagine the smiles on their faces? Just the act of “giving” these specially packed purses not only made a difference in others lives, but as you can see, this is where it, being “My Sister Joanie’s Purse Project” began. Of course the Native American Indian women loved this SO much that they grew to expect these purses. Not wanting to let them down, and Danny knowing that Joanie Smith of Orange, Ca, had provided hundreds of dolls for the little Indian children all these years, Danny knew that Joanie could help him out. If she could get the purses filled, he could get them delivered
So, Joanie enlisted everyone she knew to help her out: friends, daughters, granddaughters and all of their friends as well. Purses began to pour in by the dozens! The purses had to reach Joanie by Halloween, purses that were new or gently used and filled with toiletries, hankies, pens, note cards and much more. And because these purses were going to the Native American women in Arizona where is cold, they also started collecting warm socks, scarves, gloves and other clothing items to keep the women warm. Over all those years, Joanie produced literally thousands of dolls and purses and Danny Davey and the Thunderbird Foundation, without ever hesitating, delivered these presents, gifts and more to all the delighted Native American women and children.