On Sunday April 23rd, “The Duffel Bag Project” came to an end, when the duffel bags and supplies were put together and ready to donate to Social Services for area foster children. Together We Rise, is a company that runs “Sweet Cases,” a program that makes this fundraiser possible. If you would like to lean more about Together We Rise, please visit their website. “The Duffel Bag Project” goal was to raise $375.00 to get 15 bags. These bags were decorated with fun designs and encouragement, filled with pillow pet/stuffed animal, coloring books, crayons, blanket, and hygiene kit, and a “goodie bag.” This duffel bag will belong to them and go with them throughout their journey. Within in two days of launching the fundraising website, the goal of 15 bags was met and surpassed with enough money to purchase 25 bags! A “goodie bag,” was also included in the duffel bags that had stickers, pencil, small trinkets and toys. Four of the duffel bags had Wal-mart gift cards in them, to go to a teen in foster care.
“What inspired you to do “The Duffel Bag Project?”
Jackie recalls her life as a foster child, “This project is close to my heart, because at some point in my life, I was a foster child. My birth father died in a motorcycle accident and my birth mother was deemed “unfit to be a mother,” due to mental and physical abuse, drug abuse and mental instability. I don’t remember when I was taken from my birth family, but I remember living in a foster home and short visits with my birth mother through social services. They were either at her house or at Social Services. Anytime visits with my birth mother were involved, I remember fighting, name calling, random men at the house, crying, drug use, and attempted kidnapping. I’ve been told I have lived in two foster homes until I was adopted. The second foster home I remember.
I remember the yard, the smell of the pigs from the farm, the multiple kids that came and went, and the names of my foster parents and their children. I remember putting pennies on the rail road track and running and hiding so we wouldn’t get hit, and running back to see if they were flattened. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go from foster home to foster home until I was 18 and “aged out of the system.” But I do remember people coming to visit me, look at me, spend time with me, to see if they wanted me in their family. It was almost like I was a puppy at the pound, waiting for someone to save me. My foster parents were loving and caring, but I never had anything of my own. My birth mother wouldn’t let me have my clothes or toys she bought me and my foster parents couldn’t afford to buy me things I wanted or needed. I ended up with hand me downs or shared toys with the foster parent’s children or the foster children. Around the age of 5, my family finally found me.
They are a loving, caring, giving, moral and understanding couple who accepted me and worked with me through my “problems” of being a child in the system and readjusting. They provided the best life that they could give me, far better than growing up in foster care, with my birth mother, or on the streets. I still have my things that I had when I left my foster home, they fit into a grocery bag. A few toys, some hand me down clothes, a photo album and some art work I created. I don’t remember if I had a suite case or not, but I doubt I did. My heart hurts for children in foster care, but sometimes it’s the “better option” for some situations. It’s a rough, tiring and mental struggle to be in foster care, even if it’s short time. I understand the pain, hurt, and confusion of being in a foster home. That is why I decided to do this project. It’s nice to have something of your own, even if it is “just a duffel bag, a coloring book, blanket and a stuffed animal.” I hope one of these duffel bags can bring a smile to a child and to remind them that they are cared for and not forgotten.”
This project is close to both Amanda’s and Jackie’s hearts, as they also have many friends that grew up in foster care, and friends and family members that are adopted. Kacie Mercil also helped, by offering the use of the gym she owns, Crossfit Allectus in Alexandria, MN. She also helped in assembling the duffel bags.
When the project was first launched, Jackie was under the impression, that Together We Rise, a non-profit company that this project is made possible through, had made contact with Douglas County Social Services. Some how there was a miscommunication and it was discovered when she received an email from Douglas County Social Services. The social worker was contacted by a “concerned KXRA radio” employee that didn’t believe it was a “legitimate fundraiser” and after reading The Echo Press Story on 2/3/2017.
Jennifer McLaughlin of Douglas County Social Services wrote: “At this time we feel we have a sufficient supply of comfort items of stuffed animals, small lap quilts and personal hygiene items as well as a supply of empty bags to last us for some time to come. When we get a child into care at this time, we have the empty duffle bags and the other donations we have gotten for the hygiene kits can be added to them if appropriate. At this time we have maxed out the storage space that we have available and while we thank you greatly for your investment in the project, at this time we would have concerns about the ability to store and distribute additional donations.”
Thank you to everyone that made this possible and donated towards the online fundraising site, “The Duffel Bag Project.” Thank you to a person who donated some toys to put in the “goodie bags,” and for Kacie letting us use the gym to assemble the bags!
I couldn’t find any information about how many children are in foster care in Douglas County, but I did find this information. The following information is from Douglas County Child Foster Care website:
In Minnesota, when children must enter foster care, relatives and kin are sought to care for their children. Preserving relationships with family members is crucial to a child’s sense of safety and well-being. When relatives and kin are not available, county social services recruits community members to become foster families. In Minnesota, more than 70 percent of the children in out-of-home placement are in a home setting.
How Foster Care Helps
Foster care provides a safe place to be if a child cannot live with his/her family or on their own. Children enter foster care because of neglect, abuse, a family crisis, or the child’s own needs. Foster parents help by providing stability, affection, consistency, and nurturing.
I couldn’t find the exact number of children that are in foster care in the Douglas County Area, but I did find this on Adopt Us Kids:
- In 2011, 4,995 children in Minnesota lived apart from their families in out-of-home care.
- In 2011, 1,375 of the children living apart from their families were age 5 or younger, and 856 were 16 or older.
- Of the 5,709 children exiting out-of-home care in Minnesota in 2011, 63.8% were reunited with their parents or other family members.
- In 2011, 580 children were legally adopted through the public child welfare agency in Minnesota.
- Of the 4,995 children in out-of-home care in 2011, 923 or 18.5% were waiting to be adopted.