The Handbag Project


Durbanite Jessica Foord became a heroine to many South Africans when she showed courage and selflessness by establishing The Jes Foord Foundation (JFF), following her traumatic rape by four men in 2008.

One of her initiatives is the Handbag Project.  New or used handbags are donated, containing items that can assist a rape victim during the initial reporting process at the police station. These are things such as a facecloth, soap, deodorant spray, new underwear, etc. Typically, any item of clothing with forensic evidence on it must be taken from the rape victim, at a time she already feels so vulnerable. She then must undergo physical examination before being allowed to shower.  A handbag with ‘comfort’ items in it can go a long way in helping the victim feel a little better.  The most important item in the bag however, is a letter with a few words of encouragement to restore some hope to the victim during this traumatic time.  Jes said it can be a few words or an essay but something from your heart to theirs i.e.   “No matter what has happened you are special, and please don’t let anyone take that away from you.  You can, and will, get through this. There are so many people who really care and will help you gain your strength.  This gift is given to you with love from Louise”.  When you are at your lowest, just receiving the bag with all the goodies, a simple gift that can give you hope which is a fundamental step in recovery.

Volunteer, Francesca Lynch sorting and packing bags at our offices, to prepare to  deliver them to Rape Crisis Centres

Volunteer, Francesca Lynch sorting and packing bags at our offices, to prepare to deliver them to Rape Crisis Centres

Jes put out a plea this year asking women to donate good condition handbags i.e. bags which are no longer used or which have been received as a gift but will never be used.  Each handbag received is packed with the items on the list below, or in some cases, ladies actually fill up their bags with the listed items before dropping them off.

In the Gauteng Region,  the bags are collected by The EPIC Foundation run by, Alta McMaster (cell: 082 940 6230 ) and delivered to Rape Crisis Centres and Victim Empowerment Centres  (VEC) who deal with the police stations.   The handbags are not given directly to the police stations to keep.  The handbags are monitored very carefully (i.e. they are  numbered and a register kept). In the Durban area, the bags are collected by The Jes Foord Foundation and in the Cape Town area, contact and she will advise you where to drop off your handbag.

Volunteer Francesca Lynch with Dr Josias outside the Simelela Rape Crisis Centre in Khayeltisha

Volunteer Francesca Lynch with Dr Josias outside the Simelela Rape Crisis Centre in Khayelitsha

Face Cloth
Panties (med or large)-no g-strings
Sanitary Towels
Tooth Paste
Tooth Brush
Body lotion (small)
Bubble Bath (small or decanted)
Comb or brush
Hair clips/Bands
Small soft toy
Note – words of comfort/care
Bag – to place the above items in

9 Responses to “The Handbag Project”

  1. Juliet says:

    Hello. I read about this project while in SA on holiday in April and was touched by the humanity and simplicity of the concept. As a resident of the UK it is impractical for me to try and donate a handbag, but I could make a small monthly donation. Can I be assured that this donation will purchase these small, but meaningful gifts for these girls/woman?

    • Vanessa says:

      Thanks Juliet. Alta MacMaster runs an NGO which deals exclusively with the Handbag Project and you can rest assured that your donation will go directly towards filling handbags for rape survivors. Alta needs all the support she can get and I urge you to email her directly on “” as she will be most grateful to receive your assistance.
      With thanks

  2. Helen says:


    Is Alta still the contact for Gauteng?

    kind regards

  3. Cecily sher says:

    I would like to be part of this wonderful project – about 12 years ago I was invited to a dinner in aid of starfish – what an amazing organization.

    Where do I drop off these packed bags?

  4. […] experience of forensic evidence being collected from them following a rape. This is part of the Handbag Project and whilst not a core function of the DNA Project, we always facilitate this project in Cape Town […]

  5. sue vorster says:

    good afternoonThe Guides from Germiston and Bobsburg have collected 58 hand bags with the contents and we would like to hand them over but there is no phone number to contact
    Please can you help with this problem

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Hi There,

    We have done a substantial collection in the last few months for the project in the JHB area.
    Could you please tell me if your organization has a BEE certificate?If it does how can I get a copy as we need this for our yearly audit.
    Kind regards