Imagine as a child moving from home to home with all that you have in a garbage bag. For many foster children, it is an indignity, which must be suffered in addition to everything else they have already endured.
Lighten the Load, a group comprised of several local family court attorneys, seeks to provide children security through the foster care system in St. Clair County with a solution in the form of donated quality suitcases and luggage. Laurie Mize Henderson, Co-Chair of Lighten the Load says, “We have collected or purchased over three hundred pieces of luggage.”
The organization’s slogan, “a trash bag is not a suitcase,” encompasses their goals to meet the needs of the approximately 99 children who pass through foster care in St. Clair County. A common issue, Brandy Valentini, a family attorney who works with the organization said, “Most social workers simply keep spare rolls of trash bags in the back of their car, so when they go to pick up a kid they can pop one open to carry their belongings.” Often it is the only choice for children who are being taken from a bad situation and must gather all they can carry, their only possessions. “That’s heavy, it’s traumatic,” said Valentini.
In July, during their SMASH vacation bible school event, Crosspoint Church in Argo chose Lighten the Load as their cause to support for the week. According to the Crosspoint website, SMASH is an event lasting several days meant to teach children from preschool up to fifth grade about a variety of subjects.
They raised $2,134 to be donated to Lighten the Load as well as purchased four hard-sided rolling luggage at $50 each. Each suitcase must be up to DHR standards for donation, which means it must be durable quality and brand new. “They get something, it’s theirs, and they keep it,” said Valentini.
Initially the group mostly bought and donated luggage themselves, but it really took off in September 2018 when one of the groups members, Landon King, had an idea for Crossfit Pell City to sponsor a lifting competition to support the group which raised a substantial amount.
James Buxton, Missions Coordinator for SMASH at Crosspoint Church, presented the check and luggage to Laurie Henderson and her partners on July 30 in the lobby of the DHR building.
Buxton said, “Each year we choose a different mission emphasis. The whole week we taught the children about foster care, and they placed their donations in a suitcase.”
According to Henderson, the suitcases will be donated to DHR, and the money placed in an account ready to purchase luggage when DHR requests them. Jennifer Sellers, co-chair for Lighten the Load, said, “We mostly just handle money donations then buy the suitcases as DHR requests them,” and Angie Slaten added, “Before people were donating suitcases, but it became too much, so people just started to donate money.”
Lighten the Load has an official Facebook page for those willing to donate. The group currently prefers money donations, but suitcase donations must be hard-sided, rolling and new to adhere to DHR rules.