Hefty: The Official Luggage of Foster Care

A few hours ago I was visiting a forum about foster care that I participate.

One of the entries I read concluded with the signature above noting, “Hefty: The Official Luggage of Foster Care.”

This evokes very strong and bad memories for me of the years I spent in foster care.

I was in care from February 1950 until aging out in June 1968. During the course of these years I was moved 15 times; the final move was the aging out process.

Each of the moves, as far back as I have memory of, involved my worldly posessions being packed in a “plain brown paper grocery bag.” This was the means used back in my days in care.

I have very vivid memories of those moves and being told to , “go pack my things.” I didn’t have much and it wouldn’t take me long to pack; there was always room left empty in the bag. The amount in the bag is not the issue but rather the bag itself.

I know what it feels like to pack your belongings in a paper bag or the plastic garbage bags used for many years. I always felt degraded, humiliated, a second class citizen, feeling worthless, feeling that no one gave a damn are just a few of the feelings I experienced during those moves. The pain of those years remain to a degree today as whne I go to the grocery store I refuse to have items placed in the brown paper bags!

In the early 70’s the system, according to them, graduated to the large Hefty plastic “garbage” bags. These are still used in the majority of situations involving the move of foster children from home to home today.

How a child must feel knowing there posessions are considered only good enough to be thrown in “garbage” bags. Yes, this sure would help one gain self confidence and self worth…NOT!

Because this is an issue that still affects me today after aging out almost 42 years ago….I decided to do something about it in my local community. I began what I called, “Hope & Dignity Project.” Hope was for believing someone cares. Dignity was for having a dignified way of moving one’s worldly goods.

I called and organized organizations, students from schools, businesses and indiviuals in my first effort as well as succeeding ones.

In the first effort Funding was received to purchase 200, 30″ nylon duffel bags as youth prefer these over suitcases.

These bags will be able to hold a large quantity of personal property of youth entering care.

Funding was further received to purchase material to make “tie blankets” or buy “quilt blankets” to go into each of the bags. Based on the type and style of the blankets determined if each bag was for a young girl or boy or an older boy or girl and each bag was marked accordingly.

In each bag, in addition to the blanket, was packed with new soap, toothpaste/toothbrush, deodorant, comb or hairbrush, pencils, pens, a book, crayons, and coloring books for younger youth as well as stuffed animals (especially teddy bears) for younger children, notepads, lotions, mirrors for older girls as well as some costume jewelry which was received from a variety of donors including a collection conducted by the local high school.

I hope in some small way each youth will feel a sense of dignity and hope receiving the bags and realize someone cares about them.

Distribution was handled by the local social service office responsible for youth in care. The bags were dropped at their office so they could give one to each child entering care as the child is usually taken by the office before going to a foster home. They can arrive at the foster home with this duffel bag, their personal items & the items placed in each bag.

When I moved to my current home in North Dakota I began a similar program as I did back in Michigan. Unfortunately no state is immune from having children entering foster care.

Though it does take effort, you to can begin such a program in your community. You will not believe how this small effort will positively affect a youth going through the trauma of being removed from their family, neighbors and friends. Yes, you give that small degree of hope and dignity!

It would be fantastic if each community had someone to begin a project such as this as I fell no child should be made to feel as a child does entering care with their worldly posessions in a hefty garbage bag.

If you are interested and want to more on how to start such an effort and continue it…feel free to contact me via the comments section with your E mail address and I will contact you back.

Here is a link to an article that appeared in my local newspaper back in November 2008.

https://prairieguy.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/care-packages-replace-traditional-luggage/

Also here is an article that appeared in the Christmas 2009 edition of the Boys Town Alumni Newsletter:

 

15 Responses

  1. Hi Larry,

    I’m Katie from the Fostercare forum (known as Sippycup). I would love to know how to start a duffel bag program in our area. If you can help me get it rolling I would really appreciate it!

    Thanks,
    Katie

  2. I wish there were more people that would just acknowledge the loss foster kids go through. THAT alone would do wonders in the quest for foster care reform. I don’t think people give it much though. I know CPS case workers don’t give it much though. HECK, I don’t even think I gave it much thought until I had a young boy (9) placed in my home who had been in a very well known RTC (residential treatment center) for 8 MONTHS prior…he came with very very little. It WAS in a suitcase…but the suitcase was torn and tattered and smelled of urine. How that little boy must have felt…breaks my heart just thinking about that again. How could anyone that worked at that RTC allow that to happen? I just do not understand it.

    We did an exercise once…it was in a foster parent training class through the Bair Foundation. We were given a paper doll on an 8×10 piece of paper…and a bunch of little mini post-it notes that are like 2×2 in. We were told that we were going to be leaving home for well over a year and to write down anything that we could think of that we would want to take with us…then stick the little post-it note on our doll. We were encouraged to write down anything that we did not want to lose for good as our things would most likely not be there when we got back.

    We all did this and then we had our little 2 hour class on moves and how moving affects kids in foster care. Then we watched a movie. During this movie, every five minutes or so someone would come in and escort a person out of the room. It was dark and that person’s escort grabbed 3-4 post-it notes off their doll and left the rest behind. They were put in a room alone with their post-it notes and left there without explanation.

    At the end of the class everyone was brought back together and talked about what was left behind and how that person felt when they were pulled out of the room.

    That insignificant little GLIMPSE into a FRACTION of what a child goes through when removed from their home or from a long term foster placement was a real eye opener for some…but I don’t think it was enough. I don’t think it was nearly enough.
    😦

  3. Larry – In a strange way, my “Forgotten” art series attempts to address just a small corner of the things you have discussed here. I would like to visit with you… If there is not a Hope and Dignity program in this area, would like your advice and guidance…. Dennis

  4. We bought a duffel bag for the teen who spent Thanksgiving for us. I couldn’t imagine not doing that, letting him leave with his things in a trash bag again. When he came back at Christmas, his duffel was stuffed to the seams, so I know he appreciated it! I just wish this was standard for all the kids.

  5. I’m interested in learning how to start a program in my area (I’m a foster mom). Please email me more details!

    Thank you!

  6. Participated in a suitcase collection drive sponsored by AAA in Portland, OR a few years ago and have been looking for another program since then … please let me know how I can help from the Denver, CO area.

  7. I worked at a boys’ ranch (for teen male juvenile offenders), and it was so distressing to me that the boys came, and left, with all their belongings dumped into plastic trash bags. Foster kids, too….this has bothered me so much, and only moments ago did I discover (quite by accident!) that there are actually people in the world doing something about this indignity! Yes, I want to begin a program in my community. Please share any information you have re: how to begin. Thank you so much, and may God bless you every moment.🙂 Jeremiah 29:11

  8. Your story made me cry. I can’t imagine feeling that hopeless, moving from place to place with only a garbage to hold my things in. I’m a 31-year-old woman who is considering becoming a foster parent. My heart breaks for kids who don’t have anyone to show them love and I want to make a difference in some of their lives. I know how to love because I have been loved by God and my parents, and that is the best gift I can give to someone else.

  9. I am interested in starting a program in my area. I would appreciate any information.

  10. We have a program that we have begun that is nation-wide. All we ask for drop-off locations. The donations are tax-deductible for donors and all the resources are already available for you. We want to help these children and stop the trash bag use in this country. Check out our site and if you are interested, please let us know. Thanks!

  11. Congratulations on starting a great program. Portland Luggage has been doing a ‘Backpacks for Kids’ program for years, giving backpacks to low-income children at the start of school every year. This year we have started a program that specifically targets foster children. We give them suitable luggage so that they have something nice that is theirs and can transport their items. We are doing this in conjunction with the Portland Metro Rotary club and the Department of Human Services. Donate your luggage and we give you 20% off new luggage. Portland Luggage and the Luggage Doctors donate parts and time to make sure the bags are working properly and looking great. We have gotten some really nice luggage and we are proud to be helping foster children.

  12. I have perfectly good luggage that I don’t use anymore. Any idea where I can donate it?

  13. Happy to see someone still comes to this site. My sister, Kathi, is now hoping to begin some kind of program to collect duffle bags and other kinds of bags for kids in foster care here in Wichita, Kansas.

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