**Editor’s Note: This Letter to the Editor was submitted by Heather Lojeski, executive director of Faith, Hope & Love: Duffels for Kids in Crisis.
Imagine you are 7 years old, asleep in bed; you are awakened by loud voices outside your bedroom door. Then an officer or case worker enters your room, quietly speaks to you, pulls out a trash bag for your personal belongings; it is not safe for you to stay. How would YOU feel?
I would feel scared and embarrassed carrying my belongings in a trash bag, yet this happens in communities across the United States. As foster parents, receiving children with trash bag of belongings or nothing at all is normal, and my husband and I decided this was unacceptable. If we are giving children a trash bag for their belongings; what message are we sending them? Shouldn’t we be showing them how much we value them? This is why we do it!
Duffels for Kids program provides bags filled with a blanket, stuffed animal, storybooks, flashlight, and personal hygiene items. Each one costs $20. Faith, Hope & Love works with law enforcement, foster care, homeless, and domestic abuse shelters.
After starting Duffels for Kids, we learned of another problem within our community. Are you aware that 50% of foster children have at least one parent incarcerated? In Racine County Jail, of the 9,047 jail admissions for 2014, 4,138 are parents. On January 29, 2015 – just this one day – 373 of the 651 inmates are parents; affecting 597 minor children in Racine County. Nearly a quarter – 21% – of children ages 2 to 6 of incarcerated parents have witnessed their parents being arrested; and 30% of children who have a mother incarcerated also have a father who is incarcerated.
In October 2013, a study of 40 children in Racine County with incarcerated parents showed the children were left feeling ashamed and embarrassed having to come visit their parents in jail. The children wait 45 minutes to one hour, before seeing their parents. The study also brought attention to the negative experience children have had while witnessing their parents being arrested by some of the very same officers they see at visitation. After meeting with Racine County Sheriff Schmaling, we created BlastPacks – “Have a blast with law enforcement.” Each BlastPack contains a fleece blanket, stuffed animal, flashlight, storybook, coloring book/crayons, PlayDoh, Rubik Cubes, puzzles, and other fun activities. The contents and each bag, costs $20.
After creating BlastPacks, we were contacted by the Racine Coalition Against Human Trafficking, to consider creating a care bag, for children recovered from human trafficking. In the state of Wisconsin, the average age of a child recovered from Human Trafficking is 12 (Wisconsin Attorney Generals Office). In the state of Wisconsin, there is an average of 35 children rescued from human trafficking each year. (Journal Times and Wisconsin Attorney Generals Office).
New Beginnings bags, contain a fleece blanket, stuffed animal, flashlight, journal, personal hygiene items, snacks, water bottle, clothing, undergarments, socks, and flip-flops. These bags and their contents cost $70 each to assemble.
Through donations, Faith, Hope, & Love is able to support the mental well-being and comfort of children during a stressful time in their lives. We can make sure what ever these children have left of their self-worth is not carried in a trash bag. They deserve better. Please consider donating to Faith, Hope & Love at http://faithhopeandlovebags.weebly.com/donation.html.