Lighten the Load: Foster Children to Benefit From Suitcases and Duffle Bags Donated by Students and Staff of Claremont McKenna College

By Angelica Quicksey ’12

There are 20,000 foster children in Los Angeles County alone. Separated from their biological families as a result of death, disease and other circumstances, these children usually change host families three or four times before they turn 18. When they make these transitions, they have only large black trash bags in which to move their belongings from one home to another. What kind of message does this send to these young people, already bereft of family and support?

As a member of Rotaract of The Claremont Colleges, I realized that we could provide something incredibly basic to help alleviate the strain of these transitions. Inspired by a similar project in Northern California, we decided to create Lighten the Load, a program that would provide suitcases to Los Angeles County Foster Youth Services. In these situations, something as simple as a suitcase can provide a little dignity in what is otherwise an incredibly difficult time.

By the end of the Fall 2011 semester, with the help of the Claremont Rotary Club, the Center for Civic Engagement at CMC, and CMC students, faculty and staff, Rotaract collected 75 new and used suitcases, duffle bags, and garment bags, in addition to enough school supplies and toiletries to create 16 care packages.* These care packages contained items such as pencils, pens, notebooks, highlighters, soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and a little something special for each child. We partnered with Children’s Action Network (http://www.childrensactionnetwork.org/) (CAN), a local nonprofit dedicated to improving outcomes for the nearly 500,000 children in foster care, to distribute the donations. Early in March, we filled a van with suitcases to bring to their offices and jumpstart their own luggage drive.

In the end, there were about 25 pieces of luggage that, due to size or other considerations, wouldn’t suit CAN’s young recipients. We decided to use the leftover suitcases to make a separate donation to People Assisting the Homeless (PATH). The suitcases and garment bags that we donated to PATH will go to participants in their 90-day rehabilitation program, which aims to get homeless adults off the street and into their center, so they can be equipped with job and life skills that will help them become successful members of society.

Lighten the Load was the culminating project of my time with Rotaract and with Claremont McKenna College. As a graduating senior, I am thrilled to leave this legacy of my time here, and look forward to seeing the projects that CMC students come up with in the future!

*A special thank you to the CMC Office of Development, which donated several pair of scissors from the Kravis Center ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication earlier this year. The scissors were donated to a local elementary school in need of supplies.