The backpack, one of the oldest and most basic contrivances for carting things from one place to another, has become a vehicle for conveying love and understanding to some of our community’s most vulnerable children.
The Church of the Epiphany, Urbana, and the Church of Our Saviour, Mechanicsburg, operating as the Northern Miami Valley Episcopal Cluster, learned that many children are placed in foster care with nothing of their own. They are parted from parents and often the only home they have ever known, empty-hearted and empty-handed.
After seeing schoolchildren transport books and supplies to class in canvas bags strapped to their backs, our vestries conceived the idea of filling backpacks with personal items and gifts for children entering foster homes. Bright-colored or drab, plain or splashed with trendy designs, the backpacks would not only address practical needs, but would let children know that, in addition to their new families, they have friends who are thinking of them and who care deeply about their feelings.
Members of Epiphany took the idea to Stacy Cox, director of Champaign County Job and Family Services, and got the go-ahead to begin a program. The next week, the venture was explained to the parish congregations and everyone was told that just twenty dollars would buy and fill a bag. Envelopes were placed in strategic locations for donations to help fund the initiative. Over $100 was collected that Sunday.
Bags were purchased and filled with grooming supplies, books, crayons and coloring books, journals and pens, a cozy stuffed friend and a soft cotton, quilt-style blanket, assembled and contributed by those incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville. Bags and contents were tailored to age and gender. Soon, the first batch of backpacks was sent off to be distributed, each one blessed by the Rev. Don Duford, Cluster Priest-in-Charge.
Since then, the two parishes have raised hundreds of dollars for the ongoing project and have gathered on several occasions to fill bags. The most recent work session followed a combined Sunday morning worship service and potluck meal at Our Saviour in late April. Eighteen backpacks were prepared, this time for children in adjacent Logan County where Cynthia Heffner of Epiphany is director of Job and Family Services. She noted that there are about 130 youngsters in Logan County currently living with foster families or waiting for a home.
JFS Director Cox also attended the combined service and praised the Cluster for the concept and its heartwarming benefits, saying, “Your generosity means more than you can ever know.”
She spoke emotionally of witnessing backpack treasures ease the distress of young children experiencing this wrenching separation. She watched in tears as one little fellow comforted his younger siblings with the contents of his bag.
With that picture ever before them, it’s likely that benevolent backpacks will become a permanent part of the Cluster’s mission to serve our community with the mind of Christ.
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Sally Johnson is a retired journalist and member of Epiphany, Urbana. She has edited the Cluster Chronicle, a monthly publication of NMVEC, which includes the Church of Our Saviour in Mechanicsburg, for six years.