PELL CITY -- The six suitcases sat along the wall inside the Pell City Center gymnasium. Hopefully, one day, they will help “Lighten the Load” for some foster children.
Pell City attorney Laura Mize Henderson, who along with family attorney Jennifer Sellers organized Lighten the Load efforts, said the Pell City Youth Cheer Association bought the suitcases with the proceeds from this week’s cheerleading camp.
She said the suitcases will bring the total of the number of luggage pieces donated to the nonprofit group to 204.
“We have distributed probably 150 suitcases that are in the hands of children,” Henderson said. “We try to keep a stockpile of suitcases at DHR (Department of Human Resources).”
She said when children are picked up by DHR, they are allowed to “shop” for their own suitcase to carry their personal items to their new or temporary homes.
“It’s (the suitcase) is theirs for life,” Henderson said.
The Lighten the Load program was started in St. Clair County in 2016.
In the fall of 2015, a group of family court attorneys, judges and DHR social workers were at a judicial summit in Guntersville, Henderson said. There was a panel of former foster children, who were now adults.
She said the former foster children were asked what family court officials could do to make it easier, better for children who enter foster care.
Henderson said three woman on the panel said it would have been great to have had their own suitcase, instead of putting all their belongings inside a large, black plastic bag when they moved from place to place.
“That’s how the idea got started,” she said.
Henderson said only one or two other counties have a program like the Lighten the Load.
She said a Foster Care Task Force is looking at promoting or expanding the program statewide.
“That’s what we’ve been wanting,” Henderson said.
She said donations and suitcases are welcome. The local group will only accept new suitcases, preferably full-size suitcases with hard sides and wheels.
Henderson said people can also donate money to Lighten the Load.
Checks made out to the “St. Clair County Bar Association” and designated for the “Lighten the Load” program can be sent to Henderson at 1906 Cogswell Ave., Pell City, AL 35125 or to Sellers at 1918 Cogswell Ave., Pell City, AL 35125.
Henderson said the group also has a Facebook page if people want more information about the program. She said volunteers have fundraisers throughout the year to help raise money to buy suitcases for foster children.