Linda Lucas

Backpack project offers comfort at time of crisis

Children destined for foster care target group for initiative

One hundred black backpacks are being piled into a minivan in Langford.

Filled with stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, gift cards, toiletries, sketch pads and even cameras, the cargo quickly piles up in the vehicle’s interior by staff of the Indigenous Perspectives Society. The backpacks are headed up Island to transitioning foster children, some of whom left the only homes they ever knew with only the clothes on their back.

“It is a scary period of time for them and this will give them some level of comfort,” said society administrator Michele Oatman. “They can sometimes be taken out in the middle of the night and leave with nothing. When they open (the backpack) up, there is a bear in there for some comfort; a pillow and a blanket to curl up with. They are very deserving.”

The Children’s Aid Foundation and the Ted and Loretta Rogers Foster Care Transition Program provided the backpacks, along with a $39,000 grant to the IPS to identify agencies or communities to benefit from the dispersement of the stuffed backpacks. The Representative for Children and Youth (RCY) and  the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) also provided donations for initiative.

Four agencies on the Island were chosen to receive 50 backpacks each, including Surrounded by Cedars Child and Family Services in View Royal and the Foster Parent Association in Langford. They were due to receive their backpacks this week, while Lalum’Utul’ Smun’Eem Child and Family Services in Duncan and Kwumut Lelum Child & Family Services in Nanaimo received their backpacks on Dec. 10.

Each organization sees its packs topped up with additional age appropriate items including gift cards, recreation passes or even cameras.

“It’s really an opportunity to have children in care have something they can call their own when they are taken out of their family home and placed into foster care,” said Linda Lucas, executive director of the IPS.

“It’s important for me in terms of giving back … to children and youth in care so they have some sense of security and some sense of belonging through receiving a gift of this nature.”

In total, approximately $320,000 was pooled for the fund.

“It shows that it’s not a small group of people that surround them; that care about them; but that the entire communities care about them,” Oatman said. “As they become aware of that, it is very important to them.”

The packs are expected to be divvied up as needed by the agencies. Oatman, one of the leads on the project, said she is proud to have been involved in an initiative that staff members rallied around.

“(It was not) just the physical work but the feelings that went into it. It was really, really well supported from everybody here,” she said. “From the Ted and Loretta Foundation, right down to all of us filling the backpacks, our care went into it and hopefully that comfort goes to the children, too, and they feel that love.”

alim@goldstreamgazette.com