THAT’S MY BAG
PROJECT GIVES CHILDREN SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO
By Ashley Batchelor
A little boy recently placed in a foster home in Madison County received a stuffed animal as he was leaving a law enforcement office.
“He held on to the stuff ed animal until we reached his foster home. He was very attached already and named it,” said Tessa Bunch, family service worker at the Arkansas Department of Human Services County Oftce in Madison County.
It was “a big comfort to him during a time where he really did need to be a very brave little boy.”
The stuffed animal was one of the items in care bags given to the DHS Madison County Oftce by the Junior League of Northwest Arkansas. The bags are part of the That’s My Bag project, which branched out to include Madison County in August, said Gracie Ziegler, chairwoman of the That’s My Bag committee. The project previously served only Benton and Washington counties. Each bag is fi lled with a blanket, clothes, toiletries and a comfort item like the little boy’s stuff ed animal.
Ten bags were delivered to Madison County, and one has been given out to a child so far, Bunch said. The identity of and circumstances surrounding the child could not be released.
Ziegler said for the project, the committee has bags in storage throughout the year that are for kids who are removed from domestic violence or a drug-related situation. When DHS workers take children out of their homes, “a lot of times they’re pulled out with absolutely nothing,” Ziegler said. Kids leave with only what is on their backs and may not even get to bring a special toy or blanket, she added.
The bags are age and gender appropriate, so when a child arrives at his next destination, he can be given a bag that is his own, Ziegler said. The program started in 2004, and 40 bags have been delivered this year since July.
The committee works with DHS and also Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, EOA Children’s House and Peace At Home Family Shelter. Junior League members deliver bags to these outlets, but they never get to see the kids, who are often in protective custody,she said.
Ziegler said last year’s committee delivered about 250 bags, so this year’s committee is fi lling the needs of the diff erent outlets, keeping them stocked with an array of bags for diff erent ages.
Meredith Pettigrew, vice chairwoman of the That’s My Bag Committee, said they realized this year that they wanted to grow the program and thought it would be a good idea to look into a different county. She found her contact in Bunch, and the DHS Madison County Oftce was “more than willing to let us help them out.”
Bunch said she was very excited the Junior League reached out to Madison County.
“Resources are far and few between over here in a rural county, so it’s been a great benefit to have the extra support,” Bunch said.
Ziegler said Pettigrew orchestrated what Madison County’s needs were and set up a schedule to deliver the bags.
The DHS Madison County Oftce asked for bags for infants, toddlers, children and teens, Pettigrew said.
They delivered half of the bags for boys and half forgirls, and she said they sent more children’s bags because the oft ce sees younger kids come through more often.
Madison County is the first county to request infant and baby bags, Pettigrew said. Bunch told the Junior League that they have babies come in who don’t have a set of clean clothes or even a bottle or blanket, Pettigrew added. The baby bags are now available for all three counties served.
A baby bag will have items such as baby powder, diapers and baby wipes, and all the other bags will have toiletry items like shampoo,body wash, toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant, Ziegler and Pettigrew noted.
A toddler bag may include a coloring book, and a teen bag may have a young adult book. Pettigrew said the committee members are also trying to put journals in all of the bags. They have heard it might be therapeutic forchildren “to write down their feelings and their thoughts about what’s happening and what’s going on in their world at the moment,” she said. She added that the Junior League members hope these bags “help ease transition into the next phase of where they might be going.”