WALLA WALLA — It was just a pair of shoes, remembered Nelly Mbajah.
But they were new and the right size and for the little boy getting them, the world had just opened up.
"His shoes were two or three sizes too big. Just seeing him walk, you could see he had some stability issues," said Mbajah, the foster home placement coordinator for Department of Social and Health Services, Children’s Services Administration.
"His face just lit up. He asked if he could go outside and run."
It’s that kind of need that motivates the members of "Caring Hands," said Lois Duncan.
Duncan and a handful of other women founded the organization a year ago, as a way to put wings on their wish to improve the lives of foster children in the Valley.
"We went to a seminar that our church had for community services and there was a lady from the South that has started this service for children down there."
The speaker had seen her own grandchildren be taken into foster care and knew firsthand how that usually goes down.
"For the most part it is sudden. Depending on the circumstances, sometimes parents are willing to put together a bag, but more often parents are upset and that’s the furthest thing from their mind," Mbajah explained.
"So we get kids with the clothes on their backs and whatever was in their backpack."
Although the foster parents taking the children will get a clothing voucher, that won’t happen for about 24 hours, "so we are figuring out where pajamas are going to come from, toothbrush and toothpaste, maybe a coat for school," she said.
That uncertainty and chaos is the last thing children just yanked from their homes need, Caring Hands members believe.
The group decided it could put their sewing skills to use, to create a special duffel bag seeded with a home-sewn quilt and a toy, Duncan said.
"We try to make them colorful ... we put in things they will need right away, like a comb, soap, shampoo. We put in socks and pajamas that a child would need right away," Duncan said.
It’s a bag that will belong to a child forever, wherever he or she goes.
The women have crafted about 45 of these emergency kits so far, and taken them into the DSHS office at 206 W. Poplar.
There, staff might add clothing, hair products and underwear, which are forever in short supply for the teens, Mbajah said. "Things we think of being standard."
Caring Hands has planned to raise money for bag supplies via a craft and bake sale on Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 901 W. Rose St., by Luttrell’s Auto Center.
Even diapers, wipes and "Onesies" go into the bags paired with the youngest foster children, and those eat up funds fast, Duncan said.
In addition to the sale, donations are welcome. The kids always need hygiene basics, and staff tries to add some fun things for teens, such as a hair accessory or certificate for a fast food meal.
Movie passes are always a big hit with a bag’s new owner, Mbajah said. "It’s something the kids we encounter don’t get to do."
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.