“I No Longer Felt Alone”: Great Impacts from Small Acts of Kindness

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT or 1800RESPECT.org.au; contact Lifeline on 13 11 14; or visit beyondblue.org.au.

As the cost of living crisis continues, especially affecting those in the most vulnerable situations, Australian charity Share the Dignity begins preparations for its annual ‘It’s in the Bag’ Christmas appeal.

Each November since 2014, the initiative aims to ensure women and girls spending Christmas in domestic violence refuges, homeless shelters or living in poverty, receive basic essentials and human connection for Christmas. They call for people to fill a bag with necessities like a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant and period products – alongside optional extras such as lip balm, socks or a handwritten note – and pay it forward. 

“Each year, thousands of women and girls are waking up on Christmas morning in domestic violence refuges and homeless shelters. For many, an ‘It’s in the Bag’ might be the only gift they receive for Christmas,” says Share the Dignity founder and managing director, Rochelle Courtenay.

“For the past three years, we’ve received on average 30,000 fewer bags compared to pre-COVID numbers. It breaks my heart to think 30,000 vulnerable women and girls aren’t receiving a donation and are instead going without basic essentials like period products, a toothbrush and soap.”

It breaks my heart to think 30,000 vulnerable women and girls aren’t receiving a donation and are instead going without basic essentials.

In 2021, an estimated 2.7 million Australian women had experienced family or domestic violence, and an estimated 53,974 women were homeless.

Here, three past recipients share their stories about the great impact of this small act of kindness. If you wish to support ‘It’s in the Bag’, donations may be dropped off at any Bunnings store nationwide from tomorrow Friday 10 November until Sunday 26 November.

Linda’s Story

At 19 years old, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl while in an abusive relationship. He was sent to jail for what he did but located us immediately upon his release. He assaulted me, and I fell pregnant again but was pressured to terminate the pregnancy. I was then forced to flee interstate for my and my baby’s safety. I struggled with a lot of trauma, but worked hard at my job and to obtain a bachelor’s degree to give my daughter a better life. It took me a long time to trust another man but eventually, I found someone. In 2020 we finally fell pregnant but sadly lost the baby at 10 weeks and four days, and a lot of trauma came rushing back. I fell pregnant again in 2022 but lost my home and job as a result of not coping with my previous loss.

In 2023, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. I was living with my parents, however, it was an unsuitable environment as it triggered my complex PTSD. Luckily after explaining the situation to the antenatal social worker, she referred me to a refuge that welcomed women, children and pets. I was welcomed with open arms. Upon our arrival, I received a ‘Mum and Bub It’s in the Bag’ from Share the Dignity. I had arrived with very little and couldn’t believe the generosity of the public. I no longer felt alone or that nobody cared. The bag contained essential items such as sanitary pads and baby wipes. I finally feel that I’m in a safe place for now, where I can begin to grieve for my babies in heaven and start to unpack the trauma I’ve suppressed so I can be the best mother possible for my babies here with me.

READ MORE – Navigating Personal Trauma in an Increasingly Traumatised World

Kim’s Story

 Homelessness, women’s shelters and domestic violence have been generational in my family. As a girl living in a household with domestic violence, there were times when my mother could not afford sanitary items for both of her daughters, so I would improvise with toilet paper and miss out on sports and school. I ran away from home due to the domestic violence and I found it extremely hard to pay rent and purchase food due to the little income I was receiving. Then, later on in my life, I had a very violent partner and hid it for 12 to 15 months because I was ashamed. When the police found out about his previous behaviour, they told us we were going to a safe house which was a bit gut-wrenching because you just leave with what you have on. 

When I got the ‘It’s in the Bag’, the shampoo was the best thing in there. To get in the shower and wash my hair, wash the day off and smell fresh was incredible because, you know, you’ve been crying and going through a lot of trauma so it was really nice to be clean. My daughter received one too and she just couldn’t believe it. She kept saying, “Oh my gosh, really Mum?!” The way it makes you feel is just incredible, to have something that is yours, to feel clean and to receive items you need without any shame is just incredible. I’m so grateful for Share the Dignity and how deep this charity goes to ensure you receive the gift of dignity. We need to keep talking about this so we can help more women in these situations.

Gabi’s Story

I received a bag from Share the Dignity when I was staying in youth homeless accommodation in Perth. I have experienced mental illness since a young age. I became homeless after a suicide attempt left me unable to return to where I was living. I remember the day I received the bag I was having a very rough time and was quite depressed and anxious about where my life was headed – I was about to leave the accommodation to live by myself for the first time. Staff presented me the ‘It’s in the Bag’ and I felt instant gratitude and happiness. I couldn’t believe they had given me a bag I could use full of essential items that I couldn’t afford at the time such as sunscreen, body wash and mascara. I loved the note inside from the maker which read, “You are unique.” I felt able to carry my head a little higher and it removed some of the expenses of living I had been concerned about. 

As a young girl living in a vulnerable situation, the bag and the note reminded me that there are good people in the world and although times may be hard and you are in a dark place, hope can come in very unexpected ways. I am now sober and working with young people supporting them through similar situations like my own. I continue to support Share the Dignity and spread the love they gave to me to others still in their dark place.

READ MORE – Struggle, Strength and Stories: The Humanity Behind Homelessness