By Paul J. Henderson
Wendy Lacosse-Standcumbe thinks she should be dead.
At least she could have been, and because she’s not, because she says a miracle saved her life, the 50-year-old entrepreneur who lives in Laidlaw is committed to giving back every Christmas season.
After recovering so fast from viral meningitis a year ago at Chilliwack General Hospital that she surprised even seasoned caregivers, Wendy went back to the hospital in December 2014 to give gifts from her spa product company to the various hospital staff involved in her remarkably quick recovery.
“I was on life support,” she says. “Waking up was a miracle. The way I was treated in the hospital was just amazing.”
Now, a year later, the successful woman recalled her tough upbringing and looked to contribute again, this time in a direct way to women on the streets.
And recognizing she, like many people, has so much “stuff” in her house she didn’t need, her idea was to take gently used purses, pack them up and hand them out to vulnerable women in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope.
From scarves to chocolate to Tim Hortons gift cards to beef jerky to luxury moisturizer from her company, the purses are filled with things anyone could use, particularly those forced to live on the streets and resorting to prostitution.
She only has 15 purses this year, but she wants this to spread.
“I want to have 100 purses next year,” she says.
Her first stop was Abbotsford last week where, she said, she came across remarkably few women on the streets. She did find a few and one woman’s reaction made it all worthwhile.
“Just the look in her eyes,” she said. “She was ready to run when she saw me. Then when I gave it to her she said, ‘I can’t believe it, I was praying for gloves. I’m so cold.’”
Giving something away, something you don’t need or better yet something you are sacrificing makes a change. It’s nice for the person you give it to, but that’s not who it changes. What Wendy has learned is the effect is much greater on the person doing the giving.
“That’s who it changes.”
Second second chance
Not only did Wendy survive what could have been a deadly or at least life-altering illness, but she came from a childhood of real poverty.
It was November 2014, the Sunday before Black Friday, when she found herself on the floor of a trade show. At first it seemed like a migraine or the flu, but soon she was in the intensive care unit (ICU) at CGH, then off to Abbotsford’s ICU. She was on a respirator and a feeding tube then put into an induced coma suffering from meningitis.
Her daughter and husband thought maybe this was the end.
But after a brief three weeks she went from paralysis to walking out of the hospital.
That “miracle” may have changed her life, but she’s had her life changed before. Raised in difficult circumstances in Victoria, by the age of 16 she was living on her own “from couch to couch to couch,” as she puts it.
Then she heard of a place called The Mustard Seed. She heard it was for people who were alone and had no food, so she called. Next thing she knew, a guy came along to the motel she was at with a small box of food and even gave her $20.
“It was the best Christmas I ever had,” she said.
Now, a successful entrepreneur with a husband and family and a nice home in Laidlaw, she knows that dreams have come true. As for the women she wants to give a little something to, she also knows how close she came to being destitute and living on the streets.
“I could have been one of these women,” she says.
So out she went this weekend to give away her purses. She drove around Hope for several hours but says she only found one woman to donate to.
But in Chilliwack she had more success and is getting donations to keep the giving going.
“My trunk keeps getting refilled,” she says. “So cool!”
Once she started giving, the response she has found from others who want to pitch in has been remarkable.
“We have an amazing generous community out there,” she said. “I noticed many people giving in so many ways. I love the Fraser Valley. Such good kind people. I think more people want to give, but are afraid to approach people. I feel honoured to be the one who gets to do it. I was there once myself, so I know how powerful it is when someone helps you.”
Giving a little something personal in a face-to-face way, that’s as important to her as giving in the first place.
“It’s that personal touch. You are saying to them, ‘I see you.’”
Wendy says she and members of her team from BeautiControl will continue to pack purses and give them away to women in need, but she has a challenge to anyone with unused items and backpacks and bags in their closets.
“Go into the closet, find what you can give and give it away,” Wendy says. “I challenge the people of Chilliwack. . . . We all have so much stuff.”