Photo by Heather Middleton
By Johnny Jackson
Frances Wellington, of Grayson, Ga., said she happened to have a small suitcase in the trunk of her car. She also happened to be visiting her mother, Hattie Wellington, a Morrow resident and Georgia Cancer Specialists (GCS) patient.
The rest fell into place, said Wellington, who was unaware of the Ninth Annual 'Totes 2 Tots' Suitcase Drive for Foster Children underway at the GCS-Stockbridge office.
Wellington became one of dozens, Friday, to donate a total of 175 new, or nearly new, suitcases, bags, and backpacks to GCS's Totes 2 Tots campaign.
The suitcase drive is an annual volunteer event, in which the private cancer practice partners with Atlanta's WSB-TV, Channel 2, and Georgia's Division of Family and Children's Services (DFCS), to collect the items to deliver to needy foster children in Georgia.
"People need to give, while they're in a position to give," said Wellington. "These are the things that I get my most joy from. It makes my life better, because I go away feeling like I've helped someone less fortunate than myself. And then, someone may be inspired to help me."
Many of the children helped by the suitcase drive must shuffle their belongings from home to home in garbage bags during relocation, according to Ranita Webb, foster care administrator for Henry County DFCS.
"They may not come in with any type of luggage, due to the situation of the move," said Webb. The suitcases also are used to help provide children in foster care with toiletries and other necessities, as they are moved into foster care, she added.
Webb acknowledged that GCS's charity plays a pivotal role in the services provided to foster children, as DFCS continues to deal with a budgetary crisis which plagues many state agencies.
"It's a very good thing," she said. "When children come into foster care, we're acting as their parents. Donations help us provide for our kids. So, we need those resources."
GCS's suitcase drive is typically held the Friday before Martin Luther King Day, as a kick-off to a weekend of service honoring the vision and legacy of the civil rights leader. This year's event was held a week later, on Friday.
The suitcase drive was originally scheduled to take place on Jan. 14, at the GCS Stockbridge office, and 21 other GCS office locations throughout the state, according to GCS's Chief Operating Officer Dr. Wendy Hawke Lenz.
GCS officials postponed the event until last Friday, due to hazardous winter weather conditions, during the week of Jan. 9-15.
"We felt this delay would be in everyone's best interest," said Lenz, in a written statement.
Webb said she encountered some who donated directly to DFCS, despite the winter weather conditions. "When people are in the spirit of giving, they will make a way, rain, sleet, snow, or shine," remarked Webb.
"We were fortunate enough that they rescheduled," added Yolanda Oglesby, a medical assistant at GCS-Stockbridge. Oglesby was charged with organizing the local event.
The event organizer said the Stockbridge office had only collected 66 book bags and suitcases on Jan. 14 -- far short of the previous year's collection of 160 bags.
Oglesby said the office had set a goal before the winter storm to collect at least 200 bags this year, as the 2010 collection was twice the 80 bags collected in 2009. The office was eventually able to surpass last year's collections with 175 bags donated.
"Community-based organizations are our biggest contributors, and our patients are our biggest supporters, because they help get the word out," she continued.
"I think it's a great service that we're doing for the foster children, and it's a great thing for the community," said volunteer, Wendy Celestine, the front office receptionist at GCS-Stockrbidge.
DFCS Deputy Director Katherine Herren recently praised the community effort in a written statement. "Because of the generosity of the community, we were able to honor our graduating youth in foster care by presenting those off to college with new three-piece luggage sets," said Herren. "The appreciation from the youth was indescribable. On behalf of [Georgia Department of Human Resources Commissioner B.J. Walker] and DFCS, thank you, for caring enough to continue with the spirit of Dr. King and his dream."