Laverne Delgado is spending Mother’s Day weekend crisscrossing Los Angeles with bags full of personal care items for single moms who’ve fallen on tough times.
Her raw empathy has taken her from Pasadena to Skid Row, visiting transitional homes for mothers who’ve suffered homelessness, domestic violence and even sex trafficking. Among her many stops was Alexandria House, a shelter for women and their children in Koreatown.
Delgado, 32, zipped inside wearing a striped jumpsuit and carrying handfuls of white bags packed with gifts for residents. She looked like a fairy goddaughter, standing in the foyer surrounded with bags carefully packed by volunteers at her nonprofit organization Freedom and Fashion.
“The vulnerable are extremely vulnerable because of Covid so we fill these bags with essential items and luxury items,” she told CNN. “It kind of hits two birds with one stone.”
The bags include face masks, shampoo, body wash and other essential items. But they also carry jewelry, makeup and gift cards donated by such brands as Chanel, Morphe and Benefit Cosmetics — after all, it is Mother’s Day.
In total, Delgado plans to hand out 700 bags to women who could really use a pick-me-up, especially after such a trying year.
Mimi Bangu, one of the recipients, said she lapsed into deep depression and homelessness after losing her job. She sought refuge in Alexandria House with her three children, two teenage boys and a 10-year-old girl.
The single mother has since transitioned to a place of her own, but was invited back to Alexandria House to share in the Mother’s Day festivities.
Delgado handed Bangu a bag that she had been eyeing in the corner below a bannister.
“I love gold, everything is (colored) gold,” Bangu told CNN, smiling as she pulled golden perfume, lotions and a cloth headband from the bag.
“It feels amazing,” she said. “We (single moms) don’t get this often. And you know I like gold, and to have this on Mother’s Day, it made my day.”
Mekides Mengesha said she ended up in Alexandria House after losing her restaurant job and then her home.
“When I came here, I was homeless,” the young mother and immigrant from Ethiopia said. “When I got into this house, I said ‘this is my family.’”
Mengesha was excited to pick her bag, which included a multi-colored fanny pack she said will come in handy when she goes for jogs.
Since its founding in 1996, Alexandria House has sheltered more than 300 women and their children. Celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West, have visited and supported the shelter. And Justin Bieber shot his music video for “Intentions” on the premises.
To help women like Bangu and Mengesha, Delgado founded Freedom and Fashion. The organization works to empower youth and women through fashion and beauty to help them overcome their experiences with domestic violence, sex trafficking and other injustices, according to its website.
Neither Bangu nor Mengesha said they were abused. But Delgado said that she is a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“I do know what it’s like to be in a really dark place,” she said, adding that the coronavirus pandemic has only made the situation worse for many women.
Incidents of domestic abuse rose sharply across the globe during lockdown, as many victims were forced to stay indoors with their abusers, according to UN Women. The United Nations even called it a “shadow pandemic.”
Delgado knows her Mother’s Day gift bags only offer a temporary reprieve from the pain that many of the women feel. But she says watching their faces “light up” when they open them makes it all worthwhile.
Beaming, Bangu clutched her golden cloth head band, before realizing that her daughter will soon snatch it away.
“She’s going to steal it,” she said with a wide, resigned mother’s smile.