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Duffel Bags for Foster Children in South Jersey

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Partnering with Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), community member Elizabeth Ranson and her son Trenton Fischer raised $900 dollars to donate duffel bags for foster children in South Jersey.

 

The average foster child moves seven times before the age of 18. Many of the 1,400 foster children in South Jersey have to carry their belongings from home-to-home in a garbage bag.

Ranson knew some of the challenges of moving from personal experience. After her biological father left her at the age of six, she had to make the move across Pennsylvania.

“Moving isn’t always a bad thing. The important part is making sure that you have the support and security to get you through it,” Ranson said.

As an adult, Ranson has a personal investment in increasing the quality of life for foster children. For the past five years, she made small, recurring donations to a variety of organizations including Together We Rise, True Colors, The End It Movement and The Covenant House. As Ranson and her son became increasingly invested in the foster care system, it was eye opening to discover the number of children that had to move their personal possessions in garbage bags.

“There was always this innate push towards this issue. Everyone needs someone they can count on. If I could be part of providing a safe, supportive environment for a child during this time of change, then I will help however I can,” Ranson said.

However, her contribution took a huge leap forward after a conversation with the staff of Appel Farm Arts and Music Center. Her passion coupled with Appel Farm’s support was magic in the making. Excited to be a part of CASA’s Duffel Bag Campaign, they were immediately invested in this cause.

“I knew we had a community that could support this vision. As an organization, Appel Farm is here to support all of the families and all of the children in South Jersey,” Appel Farm Public Outreach Director Jennie Quinn said.

After listening to her idea, Appel Farm made the donation possible by organizing the fundraiser and spreading the word. A significant breakthrough in donations came when Appel Farm spread word through their social media and word of mouth. Altogether, they raised $900 to sponsor 33 duffel bags filled with supplies from the nonprofit, Together We Rise.

“There is no doubt, I could not have done this without Appel Farm. They took my original idea, and worked with me to make an impact on a level I could not have imagined,” Ranson said.

Appel Farm enriched her vision and gave the donations a personal touch by creating a space where local families could decorate the duffel bags at their fall Family Arts Camp this November. Family Arts Camp was created to give families the opportunity to learn, grow and build stronger relationships through arts and activities. Igniting creativity, kindness and confidence, camp was the perfect place to demonstrate kindness and empathy through decorating the duffel bags.

“Having these families sit around a table and do this together was just the right spirit for this project. It was more than just decorating a bag. The children were learning about this cause while growing creatively,” Quinn said.

Participants used fabric markers to draw and write messages of support on the bags. This activity provided a personal touch to the donation while raising awareness for the campaign. It gave parents the opportunity to explain to their children the issues that their fellow students may face in foster care.

“The activity demonstrates the power that can come from art. It can let the kids who receive the bag know that someone is thinking of them and they are supported through this time of change,” Ranson said.

All of this work came together on December 8, when Ranson and Appel Farm staff delivered the grand total of 33 duffel bags to CASA. The bags were filled with teddy bears, coloring books, crayons, toiletries and most importantly, a blanket bearing the words: you matter.

“When a child unzips their bag, I want them to know that they matter. I want them to know that they are important and feel secure knowing that the duffel bag and everything inside of it is theirs,” Ranson said.

Looking back, Ranson would have appreciated this campaign a lot when she was six years old, moving from one place to the next. She remembers some of the emotions she felt when moving and recognizes the effect that can have on a child.

“Feeling rejected, being relocated and then going through the adoption process was a lot to process as a young person. Programs give hope that the next steps can bring something positive,”  Ranson said.

Ranson and Appel Farm plan on partnering again next year with even bigger goals for this fundraiser.

“Everyone involved is proud of what we have done here and extremely excited to make this even bigger, even more impactful next year,” Quinn said.

Appel Farm is committed to enriching the children and families of South Jersey through their programming. Providing transformative arts and learning experiences, Appel Farm continuously invests in the diverse communities of South Jersey through their work with Families to College and HeART & Health programs.

Appel Farm will spread their mission in a big way this September as the Creativity CoLaboratory Charter School opens on their campus. The goal is always to find new ways to serve the people of South Jersey, uplift the people around them, and raise the bar of arts education in South Jersey.

“We are supposed to take care of each other. That pull is genuinely human nature. Especially with so many people out there who feel lost and forgotten, it is our job to build them up,” Ranson said.

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