The Stigma of a Black Plastic Garbage Bag

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My wife and I were finishing up the last of our move from living with family to our new rental home just five minutes down the road. We ran out of boxes and were getting the last items by shoving them into black plastic garbage bags. On one of the trips out to the car, I had a rather emotional moment. I was placing a few of my possessions into a garbage bag and rose, lifting two bags, one in each hand. As I started to walk to my car, I thought about how it felt to be carrying my favorite items in a trash bag. It felt awful. Even though it was me who came up with the idea to use the bags instead of buying more boxes, and even though I was going to a new home of my own choosing just a few minutes down the road, it really felt terrible.

Then I remembered something I had seen on facebook, that made me feel a lot of apples-to-apples-empathy with how foster children enter the system. I did a quick search and found the non-profit that was dealing directly with this issue:

When most children enter foster care, they receive two trash bags to carry their belongings to their foster home.

About Sweet Cases

Sweet Cases consist of duffel bags filled with hygiene kits, blankets, coloring books, crayons and miscellaneous toys.  These duffel bags are given to some of the 500,000 children newly brought into the foster care system each year, many of whom were previously forced to carry their belongings in trash bags when being shifted from one home to another—sometimes multiple times each year.  By taking the place of a black trash bag, sweet cases help a foster child keep their belongings—and their self-worth—intact.

About Together We Rise

In 2008, TWR was founded by Danny Mendoza after he discovered that his 9 year-old cousin was living in a car. He wanted to help but ran into obstacles because he was under the age of 21. Danny became disheartened after he was denied the ability to help his cousin and youth like his cousin.

Danny then had a vision to create ways to help youth in foster care without becoming a foster parent.  After telling others about his vision, he was inspired by encouragement from friends and colleagues to use his ambition to help others and start a new organization.  Danny’s vision turned reality when he created, Together We Rise,  now a nation-wide organization changing the way youth experience foster care.

Why I Believe in This

If you have ever heard me talk about my philosophy for intentional encounters, you know that I always attempt to Lower the Ladder and Only Lift Up. This is how I live life and is now the working title for a book I am writing.

Lowering the ladder means to help someone out of a hole they are in by adding a tool or knowledge that allows them to get out of that hole under their own power. I believe this is an important part of helping people not become enabled into defeatist behaviors and allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment even though they did receive help getting there.

Only Lifting Up means that in every encounter where a need is discovered you are helping that person reach a new level in their life in a way that does not put you in a bad place yourself. If you cannot help the person, then the alternative is to avoid pushing them down by instilling in the conversation a sense of hope and retained dignity.

I believe that this non-profit is doing exactly the right thing by providing these children something that both Lowers the Ladder and Only Lifts Up.

1.) The duffel bag acts as the ladder which allows the child experience a very difficult time without also experiencing an unintentional message that they or their belongings are garbage. Because the child carries their own belongings under their own power, altering HOW they carry their belongings can change how the process the entire encounter. If this is the first time they have been in foster care, it may also be the first time they have to put their belongings in a plastic bag and may be the first time they do not have things that comfort them and make them feel human.

2.) The bags Only Lift Up. I can see no way in which this project inadvertently pushes the child down.  They are filled with items that are useful, connecting, and healthy for the children. They do not fill the bags with candy and treats.

The bags include:

  • Teddy bear(s)
  • Fleece blanket(s)
  • Hygiene kit(s), including tooth brush, dental floss and small hour glass shaped timer
  • Crayons
  • Coloring book(s)
  • Duffle bag(s) (provided by Together We Rise)

 If you would like to contribute you can do so at this site 

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