For the fourth time, a group of Loudoun County residents and students are collecting donations for Comfort Cases, a national organization based in Maryland that provides bags of essential items for kids in foster care.
Comfort Cases founder Rob Scheer recently spoke to students at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn to kick-off the fundraising event.
According to Scheer, on any given day there are 437,500 youth in the foster care system in the U.S. Many of the youth move from home to home and carry their belongings in a trash bag.
Scheer's goal is to end that trend and provide kids with the dignity of owning a bag filled with essential items to call their own during an unstable time in their lives.
Comfort Cases, a volunteer-run charity, has provided more than 85,000 cases for kids in foster care.
Julie Holstein, who works for the Broadlands Homeowners Association in Ashburn, connected with Comfort Cases in 2017 when she discovered the nonprofit's video and realized it was founded by Scheer, her old high school friend.
Scheer's story of surviving in the foster system as a child in northern Virginia -- and the nonprofit he started as an adult to assist kids in the same predicament -- inspired Holstein to initiate a fundraising campaign in Loudoun.
“I thought it would be a great one to appeal to all ages and would bring our community together for a great cause,” Holstein said.
Scheer said the U.S. is experiencing a rise in youth in the foster care system, which he attributes in part to the opioid epidemic. “It is affecting the core of our families and the kids who are in foster care need our help,” he said.
“We are completely failing our youth in foster care. Only 54 percent of foster kids graduate from high school. This shows how much we have failed as a country," Scheer said. "30,000 kids this year will age out of the foster system and will be homeless. Two out of three of them will be dead or in jail. Not helping our youth is graduating them from foster care to the penitentiary. We need complete wrap-around services for these children, it is hard to get back out of shelters once they go in."
The first donation event in Loudoun County was in May 2017, and the group filled 60 cases. This year's event will be their fourth packing party with a goal of filling 1,000 bags.
“This has been a huge outpouring of love from our community members,” Holstein said.
This year, Willowsford Cares and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapters at Rock Ridge, Loudoun County and Briar Woods high schools have joined the cause by assisting with collection boxes and volunteers. They are collecting items such as shampoo, soap, toothbrush, stuffed animals, books, deodorant, pajamas and small dufflebags or backpacks. A complete list of items can be found at comfortcases.org.
Their donation drive began in October for the fall packing parties on Nov. 9 and 10. Both events will begin at 9 a.m. at Briar Woods High School. More information may be found at broadlandshoa.org/about-broadlands/outreach/.
“This is a fabulous volunteering event since people of all ages can help and it's a great community outreach event. We have had many students, adult individuals and families show up together to volunteer and pack as many Comfort Cases as they can and it's great to see everyone working together. It's such a great thing to do and no kid deserves to walk around with a trash bag,” Holstein said.