Bags of Hope: Something to Call Their Own

Little girl and bear in suitcase

In 2018, nearly 690,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. Sadly, many of those children will find there are not enough foster families to accommodate them in their community. In some cases, children are being placed with families hours away from their homes, schools, and everything familiar to them. In other cases, they aren’t being removed and may be left in potentially dangerous situations.

The Isaiah 1:17 Project

One Southwest Indiana county has nearly a 7 to 1 foster care ratio. Only 150 foster families are available to serve more than 1,000 children annually. Mobilizing a community in response to this near-crisis has become part of an expanded focus for The Isaiah 1:17 Project in Southwest Indiana.

The Isaiah 1:17 Project’s Founder and Executive Director, Marcia Lambert, and her husband Cam became foster parents in 2012. They quickly learned the challenges of emergency placements in their home. Children are often unable to take anything with them. The conditions in most homes render their toys, blankets, even the clothes they are wearing unusable. This is sometimes due to drug manufacturing, crime scene evidence, or infestations from neglectful environments. Scrambling to gather items from the store for a new placement, sometimes in the middle of the night, adds a good measure of stress. It also poses as a regretful delay in taking the child in.

Marcia remembers asking, “What would it be like if each child came with a bag of things they needed? If they saw me opening their bag and giving them their own toothbrush, pajamas, and stuffed animal to comfort them? What if, instead of the child arriving hungry, the caseworker had been able to fill their little bellies? Simply by pulling out a free meal ticket from a local restaurant.

Bags of Hope

These were the needs and dreams that birthed The Isaiah 1:17 Project. In May of 2017 they launched their signature program, Bags of Hope.. It started with a goal to give 30 bags. Bags to children in transition to foster care in the county where Marcia and Cam lived. It has grown to serving seven Southwestern Indiana counties in three short years. And packing more than 4,500 Bags of Hope!

These duffle bags and diaper bags come in 16 different age and size groups. They include hygiene and clothing necessities. Items addressing the child’s basic physical and emotional needs in the first critical hours of transition. Age-appropriate comfort items are included. As well as snacks, water, and a national restaurant chain that has provided meal tickets for each bag. These bags allow the foster family to bring them home without delay. Lessening the stress of transition improves the experience for the child and the family volunteering to love them.

Volunteer teams pack bags of Hope at “Value Every Child” events. Packing bags helps The Isaiah 1:17 Project build understanding advocates for foster families. All to help their ultimate goal of growing the number of families who foster. Increasing the number of foster families improves care and outcomes for children in need of care.

Communities Strengthened

The Isaiah 1:17 Project believes communities are strengthened when they value and support children entering foster care, as well as the families who volunteer to love them. Families who foster are a unique, valuable resource. They provide the child a place for healing. And give parents in duress a time to refocus and get help for better parenting. Healing at-risk families reduces risks associated with the neglect or abuse by addressing stress points that often precipitates the need for foster care, thereby building stronger communities.

Churches and faith-based groups are a valuable part of realizing their Isaiah 1:17 vision. A plan of building empowered communities that take up the cause of the fatherless. Jeremy Seger, Director of Music and Community/Campus Outreach at Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Evansville, Indiana, serves as Chairman of the Board for The Isaiah 1:17 Project.

“Redeemer has a vision of the church as the center of the community. And getting involved with The Isaiah 1:17 Project’s Bags of Hope has been a significant part of impacting our community.”

Jeremy Seger

Redeemer decided in 2018 that they would house Bags of Hope inventory for Vanderburgh County. They needed some help preparing the facility and packing their first bags. Redeemer realized their greatest resource for this large task was right across the street at the University of Evansville.

College Engagement

Jeremy reached out to the University’s Student Affairs office. The office gladly connected them to the Greek community and other student groups. Redeemer announced their first “Value Every Child” bag-packing event, and 200+ college students came to pack 1,000 Bags of Hope. Some fraternities helped assemble shelves in the church’s storage room, even coming back several times to finish the project.

Bags of Hope Volunteer

Claire Stout, a student at the University of Evansville, volunteered. She was asked why it was important to her to help kids entering foster care. “I love to give back to my community. My house burned down during my senior year on New Year’s Day. It was a total loss, so I was grateful for my community’s love and support. They gave us toothbrushes, hairbrushes, deodorant, and everything we needed. I think it is just fulfilling for me to give back. Specifically to kids in our community who may not have had that same support.”

Strategic Partners

Isaiah 1:17’s Executive Director, Marcia Lambert, explains how churches like Redeemer are important pieces in the larger picture of building community relationships. “The Isaiah 1:17 Project has developed strategic partnerships for Direct Access Points (DAPs). Partnerships with regional hospitals, DCS caseworkers, schools, and emergency personnel. These partnership make bags available from whatever point a child is transitioning. Having churches like Redeemer serving as local distribution centers provides the advantages of “just-in-time” inventory for local DAPs. Our DAPs know they are a critical link to the kids. But, they don’t have to commit to holding a large inventory. They can keep a few bags in various sizes. And have the security of knowing churches like Redeemer are just down the road. Ready with extra supply and volunteers to help them respond to any need.”

The partnership between the Isaiah 1:17 Project, Redeemer, and the University of Evansville continues. “Students have packed more bags, hygiene kits, and diaper kits,” Jeremy said. “They filled lead roles in prepping Redeemer’s 2019 Value Every Child bag-packing! We now see them volunteering with us at least six times a semester.”

The Isaiah 1:17 Project has enjoyed other student volunteer partnerships. Seniors from a local charter school volunteered multiple times and created a donation drop off for their semester project.

Community Impact

“Mobilizing a community through relationships has an exponential impact. With relationships, 1+1 can equal 3 or 4 or more in impact as people catch the vision of what you are doing,” Marcia explains. “The closer these students, young adults, and faith communities get to the needs, the more they understand, empathize, and become advocates. Their investment in us today can be the seeds of inspiration for them to help answer the foster care needs we are trying to impact for years to come.”

Jeremy adds, “It’s a long-term investment in a big picture view. But, we must engage the community now to fulfill the vision for tomorrow.”

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