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Henry suitcase drive sets local record

For its location, the Stockbridge office of Georgia Cancer Specialists collected a record number of bags and suitcases during the eighth annual Totes 2 Tots Suitcase Drive for Foster Children.

This year, Georgia Cancer Specialists partnered in the drive with Atlanta Oncology Associates. The organizations hosted the suitcase drive at 23 of their offices statewide — during the week leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr., Day — in an effort to supply new or gently used bags and small suitcases to child-services organizations throughout the state.

The Stockbridge office of Georgia Cancer Specialists surpassed collections from a year ago, by collecting 125 bags and suitcases, according to Yolanda Oglesby, a medical assistant at the office. Oglesby said the office collected 90 bags and suitcases in 2009, and 70 bags and suitcases in 2008.

"We exceeded our expectations this year," Oglesby said. "I don't believe we received as much as we could have due to the [troubled] economy. Also, at the time we were doing the drive, a lot of people turned their attention to what was going on in Haiti."

Oglesby said the Stockbridge office continues to get much of its support from church groups in the area.

"Each year, the participation grows," she added. "We try to do whatever we can to help the community, and this is one way to give back to the community. Next year, we'll try for a larger number of suitcases."

The McDonough-based shelter, A Friend's House, is a temporary home for children in crisis and an indirect beneficiary of the suitcase drive.

"It's definitely very beneficial for the children to be able to put their belongings in a suitcase when they leave here," said Nan Jenkins, development director of A Friend's House.

Jenkins said the 11-year-old non-profit has been a temporary home to nearly 1,600 children in crisis.

"We are here to provide a service to these children," she said. "You would hope there would not be a need for a place like A Friend's House, but unfortunately there is. If we can be of help, that's our job, and that's why we want to be here."

Jenkins said the need is ever-present for the organization to continue to provide its services to children, including providing them with suitcases in which to carry their belongings.

"We've had anywhere between eight and 21 [children] at any given time," she said. "Right now, we have 17. And we are very low, at the moment, in suitcases."

Jenkins added that, without the suitcases, some children would be forced to transport their belongings between foster-care homes in plastic sacks and trash bags.

"Usually, trash is put into trash bags," she said. "They are not trash. It does help the kids when they can leave here and take the things that they own in a suitcase. It brings them a sense of pride."

Georgia Cancer Specialists volunteers collected just under 4,200 bags this year, according to Ryan Klee, of the Totes 2 Tots campaign. Volunteers have collected and distributed 22,000 bags statewide since the suitcase drive was first launched in 2003. "A few keep trickling in, but we've collected 4,169 bags overall," said Klee. "It was another great year."