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She 'recognized the need'

Stake reaches out, collects luggage for foster children

SEATTLE, WASH.

One Latter-day Saint recently started a project to help some of society's most vulnerable children — foster children.

Chelsie Irish noticed these children often go from home to home, feeling unwanted and different than their peers by virtue of their transient circumstances.

Many of their moves from family to family occur at a moment's notice, which is often when the foster parents realize these kids have nothing in which to store their belongings.

The only bit of constancy in these children's lives — their possessions — are then hastily stuffed in garbage bags.

Jonathan Irish and Tom Swallow help transition the bags from Sister Irish's drive to the charitable organization, Fostering Together, who  distributed the bags to foster children in need.
Jonathan Irish and Tom Swallow help transition the bags from Sister Irish's drive to the charitable organization, Fostering Together, who distributed the bags to foster children in need. Photo: Photo courtesy of Chelsie Irish

Sister Irish and her husband, Jonathan, first observed this need during the adoption process. They attended a CPR certification class as part of the foster-to-adopt program. She noticed foster children entering the facility, personal items in tow. Of the 20 she saw, all but two carried their items in trash bags. This was not good enough for these children, she decided; these children deserve better.

"It's heartbreaking. No child should feel like their most prized possessions are garbage," said Sister Irish. She continued, "I'd heard of this need before but hadn't experienced it like I had that day."

She wanted to do whatever she could to work toward the goal of adoption and thought that providing bags for these children would help meet a need for the foster children while keeping her busy with a project.

Bassett Furniture donated furniture boxes for receptacles to hold the luggage collected.
Bassett Furniture donated furniture boxes for receptacles to hold the luggage collected. Photo: Photos courtesy of Chelsie Irish

"Chelsie simply recognized the need and decided that she could make a difference," said Seattle Washington Stake President Richard Pedersen.

When Sister Irish presented the idea to the stake, they thought it was a "tremendous idea." She then put collection boxes in each of the chapels for wards to donate. A flier stating the purpose of the project was put in ward bulletins and the boxes soon began to fill with luggage.

Chelsie Irish helps drop off the donated bags to a Fostering Together representative. Sister Irish initiated an effort to collect luggage for foster children in transition.
Chelsie Irish helps drop off the donated bags to a Fostering Together representative. Sister Irish initiated an effort to collect luggage for foster children in transition. Photo: Photo courtesy of Chelsie Irish

Her branch president, Jim Copitzky, manager at Bassett Furniture, donated furniture boxes to hold the donated bags. Her boss went out of his way to put a collection box and promote the idea at the office. One of her friends with a background in graphic design created fliers and tags to be placed in each bag. Her mother thought of the phrase to go on each tag, which read: "This bag is nothing special. Just cloth with thread sewn through. The thing that makes it special is sharing it with you!" This year's drive generated more than 150 donated pieces of luggage, exceeding Sister Irish's initial expectations of 50 bags.

Stephanie Swallow, who works for the organization that distributed the luggage, said a lot of children in the foster program have talked about putting their belongings in a black trash bag, but it took one person — Chelsie — to identify and act on this need. Ms. Swallow called Chelsie's involvement "a God thing," because it was not likely for someone who had not been a foster parent to pioneer this effort.

"It takes one champion just to stand up and have the heart and the passion for something and say this is not right and I'm going to do something about it," said Ms. Swallow, King County coordinator and foster parent recruiter/liaison for Fostering Together, a non-profit entity that provides resources for foster families.

"I told her, 'I wish I could clone you,' " Ms. Swallow said.

As far as Sister Irish, she said this project was feasible because she never let it get too big for her to manage. She encouraged others looking to put together a similar project to use the resources they have and be all right with asking people for help.

Sister Irish and her drive to collect backpacks is the perfect example of the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something, said President Pedersen.

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