For their fall service project, the local chapter of Phi Beta Lambda (PBL) at Southern Regional Technical College (SRTC) – Moultrie chose to sponsor two local children in foster care through the Suitcases for Kids holiday program. The students were inspired to take on this project thanks in part to the experiences of one of their own, SRTC Business Technology major and PBL member Melissa Foster.
Melissa was in and out of foster care from the age of two. One of her earliest memories was hearing a knock at the door when she was six. The Department of Family and Children Services had arrived with police officers to remove her once again. The first-grader frantically packed what she could fit in a black trash bag as her life was once more upended. “It was very scary and sad for me,” said Melissa, “and even to this day, I can remember every detail of that night, leaving almost everything and everyone behind.”
Loss punctuated and defined much of her childhood. From suddenly leaving beloved pets to being passed through various foster families to frequently losing the few possessions that she called her own, she felt very little stability in her young life. When she was finally placed in a permanent home, it was programs like Suitcases for Kids that began to make her feel whole. “For kids like me, having your own belongings gives you a source of security,” she said. “Programs like Suitcases for Kids can even make you feel loved.”
Suitcases for Kids is a major initiative in South Georgia, serving over 400 children in Tift, Colquitt, Ben Hill, Worth, Cook, Irwin, Turner, and Berrien counties during the holiday season. By becoming a sponsor through this program, the PBL chapter pledged to provide the children with at least two sets of clothes, pajamas, undergarments, a jacket, shoes, and at least one item from their Christmas wish list. Just before Christmas, each child served by the Suitcases for Kids program will receive their items in a custom bag monogrammed with their initials.
In addition to the basic requirements, PBL ensured that each kid received blankets, slippers, sweatshirts, hygiene products, and nearly every item on their wish list. The members report that they enjoyed the project so much that they have already planned to take part again in 2020.
For Melissa, the opportunity to contribute to the program that had given her back a sense of normality was especially rewarding. She was frequently reminded of her own experiences as she helped the club members select items that she knew would be meaningful to the children. “Being a mom now, it is bittersweet to know exactly how foster kids feel this time of year, but knowing the peace and joy that these full bags will bring to foster children makes me so proud to be a member of PBL here at SRTC.”