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 society’s most vulnerable children.
The Urbana Church of the Epiphany and the Mechanicsburg Church of Our Saviour, 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 texts and supplies to class in canvas bags strapped to their backs, the 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.
Epiphany took the idea to Stacy Cox, director of Champaign County Job and Family Services, and got the go ahead. The next Sunday the venture was explained to the parish congregations and were told that twenty dollars would buy and fill a bag. Envelopes were placed in strategic locations for donations to help fund the initiative.
Over $100 was realized 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. Bags and contents were tailored to age and gender.
The quilts are assembled and contributed by those incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville.
The first batch of backpacks was sent off to be distributed, each one blessed by Father 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.
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 with the mind of Christ.
The Cluster would welcome donations for the project. Checks may be made payable to the Church of the Epiphany and earmarked for backpacks. Contributors will be recognized through Cluster publications and names of participants shared with Job and Family Services.
Submitted by Sally Johnson on behalf of the Northern Miami Valley Episcopal Cluster.