Backpack program eases children’s crises
Post Independent Contributor
For more information, “like” Project PACK on Facebook or contact email@example.com.
A new initiative to help bring comfort to the most vulnerable members of our community is making a big impact locally.
Project PACK, or Provide A Crisis Kit, was spearheaded by lifelong Glenwood Springs resident Amber Wissing late last year in response to a simple request from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
“I work at the dental office of Dr. Corey Johnson and received a call from Garfield County about donating toothbrushes for children in crisis situations,” Wissing said. “When I found out that there was a need for basic items for these kids I just thought, ‘I can do much better than toothbrushes.’”
Wissing then contacted a few close friends to brainstorm ideas, and Project PACK was born. The group quickly gained steam and is now seeking status as a certified 501(c)3 nonprofit.
“What we do is collect donated backpacks and fill them with essentials for young people who have been removed from their homes for some reason,” she said. “When kids are forced to leave home due to violent or neglectful situations, sometimes at 3 in the morning, they are often unable to bring their own personal items with them — making a traumatic experience even worse.”
Anais Hernandez, victim specialist with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Victim Response Team, worked closely with Wissing to develop a list of the most crucial items a child might need in a crisis.
“Amber came to me and said, ‘If there was a dream list of all the things you would want for these kids, tell me what those would be,’” Hernandez recalled. “First we narrowed down basic toiletries like shampoo and soap but we also wanted to include things like a blanket, and even a change of clothes. Some kids aren’t even able to grab pajamas when they leave home.”
Hernandez noted that the first 48 hours after a child is removed from home can be especially tough.
“After an incident we always seek to ensure that a child remains in the care of the non-offending parent or at least a family member,” she said. “It is always best for them to stay with a relative. However, sometimes there are circumstances where that is not possible.”
When a child is taken to stay with a relative or even moved to a hotel with a guardian until longer-term arrangements such as foster care can be organized, Hernandez said that Project PACK’s provisions help make these difficult transitions more bearable.
“Since Christmas, we have already given out seven backpacks,” she reported. Garfield County is storing and distributing the packs as needed.
Many individuals and groups in the community have jumped on board to help. Glenwood Moms for Moms, a network of local mothers, recently held a stuff-a-pack event that filled about 20 backpacks. Glenwood Medical Associates is also holding a clinic-wide drive with the goal of filling 100 packs by Feb. 15.
“We got involved with Project PACK after a recent survey revealed that our employees wanted a greater level of community engagement,” said Rachel Rippy, director of business services at GMA. “We are so excited to give back to the community in such a meaningful way.”
Rippy noted that GMA’s drive is organized much like an angel tree: each of the packs includes a tag with wish list items specific to boys or girls of various age levels.
“One might have a tag that says ‘Girl: 12-14 years old’ and would list items such as a hairbrush, body wash and a journal. Another pack for a younger child might also include wish list items of a book or toy,” Rippy said. “And all would include necessities like a change of clothes and a small gift card to City Market.”
Patients and members of the public are invited to participate by picking up an empty pack from the clinic and returning it filled.
Project PACK coordinator Wissing is looking forward to building on the group’s already-impressive momentum in 2016.
“I would love to eventually expand the program to surrounding counties, and use it as a way to spread awareness about child abuse and domestic violence in our community,” Wissing said. “We live in such a beautiful place, and most people don’t realize that these things do unfortunately happen here, too.”
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