The My Stuff Bags Foundation: Something to Call Their Own
by Shannon Gillette (Photos from My Stuff Bags Foundation)
It’s a common practice to take something comforting and familiar when traveling for an extended period of time. A comfy blanket or favorite pillow, for instance. Imagine the prospect of leaving everything behind with no hope of ever seeing home again. Imagine this scenario through the eyes of a child.
Over 300,000 children in the United States are removed from unfit homes each year. Often, taking no more than the clothes on their backs. No well-worn stuffed animal, no security blanket, just the fear and uncertainty of what their immediate future in foster care might hold. The My Stuff Foundation, with these fears and insecurities in mind, have created a way of providing something each child can call their very own.
In 2015, 31,200 children lived in foster care in the state of Texas alone. These foster homes provide shelter, food, and safety but don’t always have the ability to provide a tangible object that can represent security for each individual child. The My Stuff Bags Foundation, established in 1998, provides a duffel bag, filled with items such as clothing, stuffed animals, toiletries and a “security blanket”. The My Stuff Bags are categorized from baby, to young child, to tween/teen, ensuring that all contents will fit the need of each child. The monetary value of every bag ranges from seventy five to one hundred dollars but the emotional value is priceless.
These bags, simple blue duffel bags, are stuffed with far more than things.
Any nonprofit agency serving abused, neglected, abandoned, homeless, or displaced children is eligible to apply for this program. When approved, the bags are delivered, at no cost, to the qualifying agency. Since its inception, the My Stuff Bags Foundation has delivered 500,000 bags across the country, over 45,000 in Texas. Some of the Texas-based agencies that have partnered with this program include CASA North Texas, SafePlace, Guadalupe County Child Welfare Board, Texas Panhandle Community Partners, Inc., to name a few.
It’s a heartbreaking reality that the number of bags needed each year continues to grow. There are three main ways to support this increasing demand and efforts of the My Stuff Bags Foundation. The first is by making a monetary donation. According to the guidelines put forth by the Better Business Bureau, a charity should “spend at least 65% of its total expenses on program activities.” The My Stuff Bags Foundation exceeds that expectation with 90% of their expenses being directly allocated to the program. Translated, the majority of all donated funds goes toward the actual program, not to administrative or other costs. The second way to support the program is to volunteer. The number of volunteers needed to ensure the precision of operation is staggering.
Each week, approximately 2,000 volunteers gather to stuff duffel bags. These “stuffathons” take place in the southern California warehouse where the volunteers package items, stuff bags and ready them for shipment. The third way to help is to donate “stuff”. Acceptable donations include dolls, teddy bears, playing cards, coloring books, crayons, markers, t-shirts, socks, toothpaste, and anything new/relevant for a child from newborn to eighteen years of age. The most important “stuff” items are blankets.
They especially love handmade blankets. The thought and love that goes into a handmade item can send the message to a child that they are important and someone cares about them. There’s even an easy tutorial for making an easy fleece blanket on the My Stuff Bag’s Foundation website.
In today’s world, where there’s too much focus on material things, it might be easy to dismiss this program – after all, it’s just stuff. Consider this caseworker’s recount, while working with the Rainbow Room in Borger, Texas. “Recently, I removed a 5-year-old boy from his home. I took an age-appropriate My Stuff Bag, filled with all sorts of goodies. While waiting at the office for placement and paperwork completion, we went through the big blue bag together. It provided a much-needed distraction. The precious boy was overwhelmed with excitement by the items inside. He was so proud, cherishing his new items. As we walked to the elevator to leave that evening, he insisted on carrying HIS bag, himself. The majority of these children already have battered and broken bodies and souls. They deserve something positive and wonderful. The My Stuff Bags helps us make a bad situation a little brighter.”
These bags, simple blue duffel bags, are stuffed with far more than things. They’re full of love, caring, security, and contain a moment in time when there’s something to be happy about. They may be full of “things” but they’re things they can call their own.To learn more about the program and how to become involved, visit their website at mystuffbags.org.