When children in foster care are moved between homes, they can find themselves packing their belongings in plastic trash bags.
But for children entering the system in Delaware, they are welcomed with a kind gesture: A blue duffel bag for their belongings that comes with a teddy bear, books, warm socks, and a fleece blanket.
These care packages are assembled every year at an event called “My Blue Duffel,” where hundreds of volunteers at the University of Delaware’s Bob Carpenter Center spend hours assembling care packages by cutting fabric for blankets, picking out the warmest socks, and picking out teddy bears and books.
Marie Cantrell, who helped assemble care packages during this year’s event in Newark on Sunday, says spending an afternoon helping kids in foster care was an easy choice.
“Our families, our lives are all touched by needs. And to help a child is a no-brainer,” Cantrell said. “They’re in the midst of something they had nothing to do with or cause, so let’s help them have a little comfort in this transition.”
Now in its fourth year, “My Blue Duffel” is hosted by the Wilmington-based Kind to Kids Foundation. The organization has assembled and distributed care packages to thousands of children entering foster care and facing traumatic situations.
The event has grown so large that they assemble more duffels than there are new children entering the foster care system.
Caroline Jones, president and founder of Kind to Kids, says the 450 packages assembled this year will be used to comfort children going through other traumatic situations like car crashes, fires, or medical emergencies.
“Now we are able to give duffels to the state workers of the state of Delaware. And we’ve also gotten requests from police, firefighters, and the hospital emergency rooms when kids come in because of child abuse, and right away, they’re given this blue duffel to help them,” Jones said. “These are traumatic events, and this is something we can do to help them through this crisis.”
The event was attended by a number of local community organizations, including local businesses, athletic clubs, and community service organizations.
Charlotte Miller-Lacy, volunteering with the Wilmington-based non-profit I Am My Sister’s Keeper, says “My Blue Duffel” helps the girls participating in her organization recognize the needs in their community.
“I think it’s important for teens like this to see that there are other kids who are in need and they can give back as a teenager,” she said. “It’s about working in the community, bringing that community harmony together, and that’s what they’re doing here. They’re looking after kids who are vulnerable.”
Maurice and Juanita Pritchett, former-educators-turned-community-leaders in Delaware, received an award at the event for their community service.
Maurice says that the duffels show foster kids in Delaware that the community cares about them.
“It shows love. It shows caring. And it shows that people want to give their strength to help them become something. And a lot of times, people don’t get that,” Pritchett said. “So if you’re out there, and things don’t work out for you, I think this is a start. It gives you an advantage.”