Kiwi Packs project exemplifies Bay Village community service in action
Bay Kiwanis, Community Services, Key Club partner to provide essentials for abused children
Kiwanis Kiwi Packs are an amazing community service project started by the Bay Village Kiwanis Club, teaming with members of the Bay High Key Club to provide essentials to foster children throughout Cuyahoga County.
The donated backpacks are filled with items that a child going into foster care can use. Typically, you would find a soft blanket, toothbrush and toothpaste, hygiene supplies, underwear, coloring or activity book and crayons, and often small toys.
Children are removed from their parents’ homes if a social work investigation reveals that the children are at high risk for abuse and neglect and there is no other way to guarantee the child’s safety in the home. This requires an order from the court and enough evidence substantiating abuse. At this point the children have already suffered a great deal.
Unfortunately, the trauma to the child doesn’t stop there. Sometimes it seems to get worse before it gets better. When social workers have to remove a child from the parents’ custody, they become wards of the county. They are leaving the only home they know. Even though the circumstances are grim, it is the only home they know and surprisingly, they usually love their parents despite the abuse and neglect.
So the social worker has to explain to these kids that they will not be living with their parent(s) until the parents get help with their problems. Sometimes Children and Family Services is able to work with the families prior to the removal and the kids are prepared that they have to leave. This is rare, though. Generally when a social worker obtains custody, they have to remove the child first and then try to work with the families to get them the help they need.
Imagine you are a child three years old, or six, or 10, or 14. A social worker that you may or may not have ever met before approaches you and explains that you are not going home, or in some cases they are taking you from home and that you will not be seeing your mother until she gets help with her “problems” (drug treatment, counseling, anger management, etc.). How scared and confused would you be? Everything you have known up to this point is about to be pulled out from under you.
When possible, the children are removed from school to avoid a horrible confrontation with the parent which can prove frightening and dangerous for all involved. In this case, the child only has the clothes on their back. In other instances, the children are removed from their homes, often with police assistance. The goal is to get the child out as quickly as possible. You can imagine, most of these parents don’t say, “Wait, let me pack his belongings.”
From there, the children are taken to a hospital to be “triaged.” This is a physical examination to make sure that they don’t have ringworm, lice or other contagious diseases that would prevent them from entering a foster home without receiving treatment first. At the emergency rooms, sometimes these kids have to wait for hours before a doctor will see them. And they are waiting with their social worker who is busy on the phone trying to arrange for a placement for them.
This is where the Kiwi Packs enter the picture. The Kiwi Packs are donated to Children and Family Services. If a social worker knows that they have to remove children, they can take the packs along and give them to the kids. Now the kids have something to open up and look at while they are waiting. They can wrap themselves in the blanket, color, do an activity. Many of these kids have not attended school on a regular basis and may not even have had a book bag of their own. Now they have something that belongs to them, and it is filled with wonderful surprises.
From the hospital, the child may travel directly to a foster home, or they may have to go to the agency to await a placement. When they finally arrive at the foster home, they are walking into a stranger’s house and the only thing they are bringing with them is their Kiwi Pack. You can imagine that pack becomes very important to them.
Eventually the foster parent will receive a clothing order to purchase clothes, but initially when the foster parent gets a call that a home is needed for a child, they do not have any time to prepare or purchase items for that specific child.
In the best of circumstances, the social worker is able to arrange a visit with the parent(s) within a few days. Unfortunately, depending on the circumstances, the parent may not be in shape to see the child. The child’s world is different in every way. At least now they are safe and protected.
After the weeklong drive of soliciting donations from the student body, Bay High Key Club members double checked all the bags at their weekly meeting to make sure they were complete. They collected 33 complete bags through the Key Club effort at the high school.
Project chairs Lauren Chen and Julia Mosier then went shopping to buy additional supplies with a $500 donation from Kiwanis to make a total of 100 Kiwi Kits to donate. Key Club members attended the Kiwanis meeting and together they finished filling all the Kiwi Packs. Bay Community Services then delivered packs to Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services.
The impact of the Kiwi Pack is probably greater than we even imagine. This simple gesture is something that the children remember as a bright spot in a very scary, dark day in their lives. Every child who receives the Kiwi Pack knows there is someone out there who cares about them.
This is an amazing service project that has a far reaching impact. Thank you to all who have taken the time and effort to bring some happiness into a child’s life.
Debbie Bock is director of Bay Village's community services department.