Each year, hundreds of children in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties are removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. These children have experienced terrible trauma, and their lives are turned upside down. Child Protective Services takes legal responsibility for them, and may place them in a foster home or other facility. Everything they have known is gone. Through no fault of their own, these abused children have become a part of an overburdened child welfare system. They deserve a voice in the courtroom. They need a CASA volunteer!
The average foster care child moves 7 times before the age of 18. Most of the time, these children are moving place to place carrying only a garbage bag. Our goal here at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties is to eliminate trash bags as an acceptable form of luggage for the foster children and teens we serve. Most times when children are taken from their home, they don’t have the time to grab the necessities such as a toothbrush or change of clothes. They are alone and in need of a friend in their stuffed animal pal. We decided to create our Duffel Bag Project, a way for our community to help us give back some dignity to our kids. Each duffel bag is filled with hygiene products (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, body wash/soap, brush/comb, ect.), a new stuffed animal, small toy/book, and a new blanket.
This will be an ongoing project due to the fact that we are constantly receiving new referrals from Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Judges. Don’t have time to put a bag together? Sponsor a child for only $25! Your donation is tax deductible!
Last week I was invited to visit with Joanna Bond, from Marlboro, at the church she has been attending for 18 years, Marlboro Seventh Day Baptist Church. This year she headed up the service project for their Vacation Bible School and connected with CASA in hopes of helping the children we serve. She rallied the church members, kids and parents to bring in items for the bags. They donated tons of hygiene products, handmade “I spy” bags, and lap size prayer quilts that had pieces of strings on them and for each knot on the string symbolized a prayer from a kid. Not only did she organize the service project, she personally sewed all the prayer quilts herself!
Joanna tells us that she first heard of CASA years ago when her Aunt was an advocate and has since been following us on Facebook. I asked her what attracted her to the Duffel Bag Project, “My goal for our VBS was to find a way for our kids to serve other local kids other than with monetary donations. The Duffel Bag Project allowed the kids to participate hands-on in a fun, practical way.” I personally love hearing about kids giving back to their community, whether it’s through donations or volunteerism. I feel like a broken record when I say teaching our kids from a young age to give back and volunteer, not only helps our community, but instills so many great qualities in them such as empathy and compassion.
When kids are involved in our projects I always like to ask how they responded, “The kids really did well discussing the
concerns and emotions and perspective of a child who might receive the items. Many of the kids wanted to snuggle with and take home the blankets and play with the I Spy bag games before giving them away. I loved hearing them willingly offer to pray for the kids. Many wanted to keep doing more prayer ties on several blankets so they could pray for more kids. It was fun to see them get excited over what we were making and doing all while seeing them full of compassion.”