CARMEL — Families gather in Carmel this holiday season to pack bags full of blankets, toys, books and more. Just like Old Saint Nick, these volunteers hope the gift of a personalized duffel bag brings joy to the child recipients this year.
Bags of Hope Indiana was founded in 2018 by local mother Krysti Widau who felt a call to help the growing foster community in Indiana.
As a mother and someone who worked with children in a hospital setting, she got a firsthand look at the needs of children going through these circumstances but wasn't ready to become a foster parent herself with many young children at home. So she and her husband set out to find another way to make an impact.
She came across Bags of Hope in New England and formed a charity here in Indiana. She partners with local organizations like The Villages, who work directly with foster children across our state, to deliver the bags with their names on them.
"Every kid gets a blanket, a toy, a book, a special item, all geared specifically towards them," says Widau. "Usually the response is, 'I've never had something with my name on it.'"
Volunteers help make the blankets during the year. The community donates items and funds to purchase the contents that go inside the bags. Bags of Hope also hosts fundraising events during the year. The partner organizations provide the names, ages and genders of kids in the system so they can personalize the gift for them.
Pam Knight with The Villages says the agency works to support foster kids and families and they are a not for profit that works alongside the Department of Child Services. She says their case workers deliver the bags to kids between Thanksgiving and Christmas and there is always a great response.
"The big reaction is always the name," says Knight. "It's not just a nice bag with an embroidered name, it's theirs. And these kids don't have a lot of things that are theirs."
She says something like a homemade blanket can provide a source of comfort during what can be a very difficult and uncomfortable situation.
"A lot of our kids come in crisis due to various circumstances, so often times they really come with the clothes on their backs," says Knight. "Kids having a bag with their name on it and things that were picked out for them based on their age, and ya know, it's just amazing and the kids talk about it all year long."
Knight adds that the work they do is heavy, and while foster care is necessary to keep kids in our community safe, it can also be devastating for them. She says the donated bags are a highlight in their year.
This year, Bags of Hope Indiana volunteers came together to wrap and pack 265 bags for kids across the state. In total, the organization has given out nearly 1,000 bags in just a few years.
"I mean to go from home to home, to have your things get thrown in a trash bag, carried around, not really catching their items, to really have something that is actually theirs to be able to take that with them, it gives them some sort of identity," says Widau. "And I think another thing is too, somebody in the community thought about you."
Every month, WRTV selects one person to be the recipient for the Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good, and this month we honor the service of Krysti Widau. She has worked tirelessly through Bags of Hope to give dignity to children in the foster care system.
To learn how to help Bags of Hope Indiana in its mission, follow them on their website and on Facebook. They update their accounts with fundraising information and volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
To learn more about our Jefferson Award winners and to nominate someone in our community who is making a difference in the lives of others, click here.