What started out as a small, local effort to help foster children in the West Virginia panhandle has expanded into a country-wide project to give those in West Virginia foster homes something of their own.
Charles Town (WV)-based JJ Bags, a creation of Jennifer Eardly-Patoray and her husband, has distributed duffel bags filled with personal items to hundreds of the more than six thousand children in foster homes throughout West Virginia. The endeavor is paid for wholly by donations, which come in from around the country.
Inside each duffel bag are comfort items like a blanket, a stuffed animal, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a book, and a single-player game or activity. All of the items, including the bags, are brand new. Eardly-Patoray said they also donate pajamas, which come in separate bags, and are categorized by size.
“These items will get them through the first couple of nights, and relieve stress for the foster parents,” she added.
Eardly-Patoray and her husband were foster parents themselves before adopting their two boys, and saw a need at that time.
“Our oldest son, Julian, came to live with us when he was twenty-three months old,” she said. “The day he came, his caseworker gave us a black garbage bag, which contained a few articles of clothing. Our other son Jordan came to live with us when he was fifteen months old. The day he came to us, he had nothing, not even a garbage bag.”
On the JJ Bags Facebook page, Eardly-Patoray wrote: “You know what one of the saddest things is? They never knew life to be any different. They never had anything of their own, and didn’t have a family to love them.”
As an homage to the endeavor, JJ Bags stands for her two sons, Julian and Jordan.
“We had the idea in November 2017 of giving away the duffel bags, and wanted to do five to ten bags,” Eardly-Patoray indicated. “We ended up giving away ninety-nine bags and over a hundred pairs of pajamas. We donated them to the Children’s Home Society in Martinsburg, which helps with foster-care placement.”
Throughout the following year, JJ Bags donated another 300 bags, and just donated 170 bags after the Christmas holiday—along with 200 pairs of pajamas.
Eardly-Patoray is both extremely proud of and equally determined to continue the JJ Bags mission in 2019. “We have key clubs in high schools collecting duffel bags and comfort items—a community service effort that extends across the state.”
To find out more, and support JJ Bags moving forward, visit the above links.