Imagine walking into a relative's home for a visit with all of your clothes stuffed in a huge trash bag. Most people would be mortified, but unfortunately, this is a way of life for foster children. There are more than 22,000 children in Florida’s foster care system and every day, a foster child moves into another home with his or her belongings in a trash bag. It shouldn't be this way as many of these children have entered the system because of a biological parent’s inability to care for them because of drug abuse, physical abuse or other conditions; not through any fault of their own.
When my husband and I picked up our first foster child in January 2008, we were handed this precious little boy -- and a huge black trash bag. We were new to the system of foster care so this gesture came as a complete surprise to us. Questions such as "Are the clothes clean?", "Am I supposed to keep the bag?" and even a simple "What IS this?” all ran through our minds. However, the newness of it all and the excitement of welcoming this baby boy into our home made us temporarily forget about that bag, which was promptly left in the garage ... until the next child was placed with us with a trash bag.
While our first foster child was too young to care where his clothes were placed, that does not hold true for older youth and teens. Carrying belongings in a bag meant for the trash can have a profound effect on self-esteem and can cause feelings of worthlessness for older children in foster care. This is where Duffels4Kids enters the picture.
Duffels4Kids aims to eliminate the demoralizing practice of placing children in homes with their belongings in trash bags by providing a duffel to every child in foster care. This part of the child welfare culture must be changed but it begins with you -- and me -- and others who are willing to donate or walk in solidarity with Duffels4Kids on May 21 in the Duffels4Kids Walk. While we cannot alter the reason a child must be in foster care in the first place, we can do our part to ensure they are treated with respect and dignity while there. Having a new -- not used -- duffel bag to call their own is a small step in that direction.
You can donate a duffel in the 5000 Role Models Duffel Drive at one of the five Jacksonville middle schools: JEB Stuart Middle, Jefferson Davis Middle, Fort Caroline Middle, DuPont Middle or Ribault Middle.
More info: contact@duffels4kids or http://www.duffels4kids.org