Jun 21, 2021

Wonder Women League Project Suitcase seeks to meet increased demand

Posted Jun 21, 2021 11:01 AM
Wonder Women League co-chairwoman Nancy Jeter holds up a stuffed animal, which is an example of what is in the duffle bags given to foster children as part of the league's Project Suitcase.
Wonder Women League co-chairwoman Nancy Jeter holds up a stuffed animal, which is an example of what is in the duffle bags given to foster children as part of the league's Project Suitcase.

Hays Post

Imagine you never had your own new pair of pajamas. A project in Hays changed that for one little boy.

The boy had to be removed from his home and placed in foster care. The Wonder Women League's Project Suitcase provided the little boy with a pair of Batman pajamas along with a duffle bag of hygiene and comfort items.

The boy was so excited he wanted to put the pajamas on right away, said Nancy Jeter, co-chairwoman of the Wonder Woman League, during a Hays Chamber ribbon cutting June 11.

The pandemic put a damper on the launch of Wonder Women League's Project Suitcase, but a crowd crammed into the Jeter Law Firm office  last week to launch the second year of the project.

Each year, an average of 125 children in Ellis County must be removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Foster care officials report the number of children removed from homes could be up this year as high as 175 children, Jeter told the crowd.

"When they are removed from their homes, as you can imagine, it's traumatic," Jeter said. "They don't know what is going to happen to them. They're scared. They are going to a place they don't know."

Prior to the launch last year of the Project Suitcase, many of those children had to grab what belongs they could and stuff them into trash bags.

"What does that say? All my things can fit in a trash bag. I'm not a trash bag kid. I deserve much better than this," Jeter said.

The Wonder Women League, which is a non-profit under the umbrella of the United Way of Ellis County, partnered with law enforcement and social service agencies to provide duffel bags filled with hygiene products, comfort items, a McDonald's gift certificate and a bag in which the children can place their belongings.

Also included in the bags are new pajamas, underwear and socks, fleece blankets, snacks, a stuffed animal, note of support from the league and a notes from two former foster children, as well as small toys, such as a deck of cards, fidget spinner or Rubik's Cube. 

Diapers, wipes and baby formula are included when needed.

The bags are coordinated for appropriate gender and age of the children.

Once they reach their foster home, the children are able to bathe, brush their teeth and comb their hair with their own toothbrush and comb, and dress in clean underwear, socks and pajamas.

"It sets their scene for bed. It gives them a little trust in the new surroundings, and one foster parent said it gives them an idea of what bedtime should be like when you are child," Jeter said.

"That you get a bath. You brush your teeth. You put on clean pajamas and, hopefully, get a book read to you and a hug at the end of the evening."

The bags cost about $50 each. The cost has been funded through the league, as well as grants, monetary donations and gifts of items from community members and businesses.

Members of the league meet regularly to pack new bags for the project.

The league received a $5,000 grant from the Heartland Community Foundation in 2020 to launch the project, and a $5,000 donation from the Robert E. and Patricia A. Schmidt Foundation and a $500 donation from the Ellis County Bar Association in 2021.

Other sponsors of Project Suitcase, all of which have signed on to support the program for a second year, include Erin and Trevor Giebler, Hamlin Creative Consulting, McDonald’s, eyeSmile Dental & Vision, Pepsi Bottling Group, Color/Cut Salon, RD Graphics, Jeter Law Firm and First Kansas Bank.

You can learn more about the Wonder Women League on the United Way of Ellis County website. The individual annual membership donation starts at $50. You can join and donate online.

Editor's note: Cristina Janney is a member of the Wonder Women League, which supports Project Suitcase.