"First-Night in Foster Care" Backpack Blessings

By Beth Storms

AGAPE Backpack Coordinator

Since January 2018, AGAPE Volunteers have delivered 100“ first-night in foster care” backpack to Department of Social Service offices in 5 North Carolina counties! The DSS workers have expressed gratitude for AGAPE’s outreach to ease the transition for children entering foster care. They tell our Backpack Distributors stories illustrating how important AGAPE’s “comfort bags” are to these kids at one of the most difficult times in their lives.

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To prepare for the next round of deliveries, AGAPE urged a few churches to hold a Backpack Donation Drive in March and April and a “packing” party was held on the heels of that drive. Your kindness has enabled another 194 backpacks to be filled and ready to go (with several leftover items, just in need of blankets, to fill more)!

Thank you to members from the following congregations who generously donated during our Spring 2018 Backpack Donation Drive: Biltmore Church of Christ, Asheville, NC; Cary Church of Christ, Cary, NC; Deep River Church of Christ, High Point, NC; Jericho Church of Christ, Mocksville, NC; Brooks Avenue Church of Christ, North Raleigh Church of Christ, and Raleigh Church of Christ, Raleigh, NC. We also want to thank an individual Friend outside of these fellowships who donated beautiful homemade blankets along with other items. We deeply appreciate ALL the Church Leaders and Volunteers who promote this AGAPE Ministry; collect, organize, store and transport donated items; and deliver these first response backpacks to DSS!

Backpack Blessings

By Beth Storms

“These backpacks can seem like a tiny thing to us, but they can mean so much to a child with nothing; it says someone cares for them.” Sandi B

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It takes many caring hands to fill a little backpack 14” square. These first response foster care bags are just big enough to hold a child’s blanket, small stuffed animal, coloring/activity book, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a note of encouragement.

Before these little yellow backpacks with the AGAPE logo on the front can be filled, a call is made, donated items are purchased, a collection area is set up, and arrangements are made to transport. Upon arrival, the items are sorted into bins and gently used items are washed and sometimes mended.

Packing day arrives! Fran described her August backpack packing experience this way...what initially looked like an amazing amount of items sorted across two long rows of tables, came to mean so much more after learning how they would be used; maybe a little boy would like a superhero themed backpack or a little girl might like a pretty pink princess themed backpack. Sandi shared how she and her husband were once AGAPE Foster Parents; perhaps their loving example is a reason their son and his family are now fostering through another organization where they live in Arkansas. Sharon appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how the AGAPE ministry touches the lives of children placed in foster care as she worked. While Carolyn feels physically limited in how she can serve these days, she was glad to able to help.

Hands help in many other amazing ways. Carolyn also serves with the Raleigh Bear Ministry; both Raleigh and Brooks Ave provide bears. A Quilt Ministry at Deep River creates beautiful quilts and graciously donates several to the AGAPE Backpack Ministry. Sarah is a stay-at-home mom of an active toddler who often feels like her life has been reduced to an unending round of laundry, dishes, and story time. Making comfort blankets for the younger foster children when her schedule allows helps fulfill her desire to serve.

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Two fall youth rallies hosted by the Cary and Raleigh youth, produced over 150 encouragement cards to slip into the AGAPE backpacks by simply setting up an area for kids to get creative. Geri, the coordinator of this activity at Cary, said several stayed to make cards specifically because the cards were for AGAPE; many already knew about the ministry because their congregation had collected items to go in the backpacks. One girl, about 12, not aware of AGAPE asked Geri about the activity; after learning what it was for, she shared with Geri that she was currently in foster care and intently proceeded to make several cards. Each card was designed with a sense of caring and, while Geri said she struggled with what to say to a young child she did not know, most of the kids had no trouble with what to write.

Teresa became a Backpack Distributor last July; upon following up with the Social Worker Supervisor a few weeks after her first visit she learned all the backpacks were given out within
a week which was heartbreaking for her to hear but also solidified her reasons for volunteering. The supervisor shared that many children they place only come with the clothes they have on and how she was blessed to personally witness the happiness these backpacks can bring when she had the opportunity to hand out two herself.

And then, we begin again! A spring donation drive is in the works. We tend to run out of blankets when we are packing; winter clearance sales may be a good time to help us stock up! Five Below or thrift stores may be other good resources. 

Backpack Blessings

by Beth Storms

Beth became one of AGAPE of NC’s volunteer backpack distributors in late April 2017. She made her initial delivery of our first response backpacks, filled with a few essentials and expressions of love, to the Wake County Department of Social Services last May. In early June, Beth decided she wanted to do more and volunteered to help with recruiting backpack distributors to other NC counties and coordinating the collection of donations. 

Once AGAPE launched its summer backpack donation drive, I worked closely with their staff, learning as I went. It was emotionally overwhelming to experience the generosity of brothers and sisters in Christ as I stood on my long, deep front porch “unwrapping” boxes and bags full of donations from all over the state — then sorting and preparing the items to be re-packed into our AGAPE first response backpacks.

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AGAPE requested and received small stuffed animals, coloring/activity books, toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths, tissues, blankets, and notecards for children entering the foster care system. From the collection of some items to the sending notes of encouragement, it was apparent that children had also participated in many ways.

As August came to an end, six ladies from the Raleigh Church of Christ joined me and an AGAPE staff member for our first backpack “pack party,” which resulted in 190 backpacks being assembled! We have received monetary donations this Fall to purchase more items and our backpack inventory continues to grow with newly donated items. So, we will be holding another pack party soon.

Gifts to AGAPE’s backpack ministry are truly a blessing to the children who receive them. And it has been a blessing for me to serve with AGAPE of NC again. As I think about what has happened the last 6 months, I sit in awe of Him even more today than yesterday, knowing He orchestrated it all. 

Note: AGAPE thanks the members of the following churches who donated during our backpack donation drive this past summer and since: Biltmore Church of Christ (Asheville, NC); Cary Church of Christ (Cary, NC); Concord Church of Christ (Concord, NC); Deep River Church of Christ (High Point, NC); Hickory Church of Christ (Hickory, NC); Lexington Church of Christ (Lexington, NC); and Brooks Avenue Church of Christ, Lifepointe Church, North Raleigh Church of Christ, and Raleigh Church of Christ (Raleigh, NC). AGAPE expresses appreciation to individual church leaders, AGAPE staff, and volunteers who coordinated the collection, storage, and delivery for our Backpack Ministry!