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