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Published: Wednesday, 11/1/2000

Lots of love packed into project for foster care

BY MIKE TRESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mark Vajen, Ashley Beiswenger, and Natalie Oberhaus, from left, at Central Elementary School prepare the `Luggage of Love' for giveaway. Mark Vajen, Ashley Beiswenger, and Natalie Oberhaus, from left, at Central Elementary School prepare the `Luggage of Love' for giveaway.
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NAPOLEON - Packing up and moving will be a little easier now for Henry County children in foster care.

Each child will have his or her own suitcase.

Fifth graders at Napoleon Central Elementary School collected suitcases to give to children who live in foster homes and might have to gather up their belongings and move.

The suitcases will replace some of the paper sacks and plastic bags in which foster children carry all their personal clothes and items.

The schoolchildren called it “Luggage with Love.”

The pupils and their teacher, Trisha Schlachter, handed over 74 suitcases to Henry County Job and Family Services.

Each travel case held a care package of personal items and a handwritten “You are special” letter from a pupil.

“Very few children come into our care with their own suitcase, so all of them need one,” said Renee Tetzoldt, special services supervisor for family services. “They carry things in boxes, bags - whatever they can get their hands on.

“A suitcase is something they can call their own and take with them wherever they go,” she said.

Mrs. Schlachter said she learned that only three of the children in foster placement had a suitcase for their belongings. The project began with a goal of collecting 60 pieces of luggage, one for every foster child in the county.

Response to the project increased as Mrs. Schlachter's students knocked on doors and asked relatives and neighbors to donate suitcases.

Most of the cases that were collected are used, but some people in Napoleon bought new luggage to donate for the project.

Mrs. Schlachter said the idea came from her grandmother and her students quickly got enthused about the luggage hunt. “We soon had a storage problem,” she said. “The kids are so excited about what they did. They've talked about the good feeling of helping other kids.”

The suitcases will rest in St. Paul's Lutheran Church until distribution.

Children who go to foster homes range in age from infants to 20 years, Ms. Tetzoldt said. Some move often from place to place, and some cannot be placed in family homes but must live in a more restrictive residential facility.

Care packages contain necessities all children need, such as toothbrushes. Gift certificates were included so foster children are able to choose some personal items that are appropriate for their age, Mrs. Schlachter said.

The project was part of a school-wide Random Acts of Kindness program begun last year, principal Thomas Jenny said.

“We know that children in foster care sometimes are pulled out of a home at a moment's notice and have to throw things together, Mr. Jenny said.

“We don't want to create the assumption giving them suitcases means we think those kids have to keep moving from place to place. Rather, the students simply wanted every foster kid to have a suitcase they can call their own,” Mr. Jenny said.

“Sometimes, foster children have to leave personal things behind when they move. Now, they'll have a place to put those things,” he said.



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