Home Local News Early College senior collecting bags for Richmond County foster children

Early College senior collecting bags for Richmond County foster children

Early College senior Cassie Austin sits in front of an art project to demonstrate the plight of foster children at Affair on the Square on Oct. 12. Photos by William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — One local student is hoping to bring attention to the situations of children in foster care and help ease their transitions.

Cassie Austin, a senior at Richmond Early College High School, was set up in front of Arts Richmond during Affair on the Square last Thursday showing off a display featuring a combination of brightly colored suitcases and black garbage bags.

A message on the window reads: “THEY DESERVE MORE.”

Austin said she had “heard a lot about foster kids … and thought it would be a worthy project.”

A card in front of the display explains that while the “ugly garbage bags …may appear as trash to some … they are a time capsule for foster children.”

“Many children in Foster Care enter the system with little or no belongings,” the card continues. “These children can be transported at any time to a new home. Sometimes they have no luggage or backpacks, only a plastic bag to hold their entire life.”

With help from her grandmother, Karen Adams, Austin is collecting backpacks and suitcases to donate to children who enter the system. The bags don’t have to be new or expensive, “just clean and functional.”

Adams and Austin are also collecting money to provide the foster children with small gift bags to give them “something to take their minds off being in the house when they don’t know anyone.”

Those gift bags feature a toothbrush, socks, coloring and activity books and small toys.

According to Social Services Director Robby Hall, there are currently 110 children in legal custody of the department — some of whom are being housed at the office until they can be placed with a foster family.

Last year, DSS converted part of the breakroom and a storage room into a full bedroom and shower facility.

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Prior to the pandemic, the number of children in DSS custody averaged around 30 at any given time. By 2021, that number had jumped to more than 70. The past two years have seen more than 100.

Hall previously told the RO that main reasons children are sent to foster care are domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse and drug use by parents.

The community group SOUL Stand Up has donated more than 50 bags to DSS in recent years.

Several members of that group are foster parents and Paulett Wall is a former homeless liaison for the school system.

“I saw many instances where children had trash bags as they were transitioning from place to place,” Wall told the RO in 2021. “So, the use of a suitcase, it may be small in some people’s eyes, but to a child … it makes a big difference to have some type of normalcy.”

To support Austin’s project, call 910-995-9923 for more information and drop-off locations. The deadline for donations is Oct. 31.