Donors in Malheur County turn backpack project for foster kids into a success

Selena Melendrez holds up money she collected last week to help buy backpacks for foster children. Melendrez gathered bottles and cans for the Treasure Valley Youth Development Academy to help with the project. (Photo courtesy of Eddie Melendrez).

VALE – Children removed unexpectedly from their homes in Malheur County to protect them no longer will have to go a stranger’s home with little they can call their own. Donors in recent weeks have contributed money to buy 69 backpacks for children who are going to foster care. Each backpack will include personal basics such as a toothbrush, books, and a stuffed animal.

The donations will be processed by CASA of Eastern Oregon and its Malheur County branch. The backpacks will go to state authorities at the Ontario district office of the state Department of Human Services.

The Malheur Enterprise promoted the campaign after its series on foster care in Malheur County.

The report included an essay by an Ontario girl, who described her life as a foster child and how she wanted to see that other foster children could have items they called their own. CASA dubbed it “Anna’s Wish.”

To support Anna’s Wish, the Enterprise set a goal of 25 backpacks for its effort, seeking $30 for each backpack. By last Friday, donors from across Malheur County contributed money for 47 backpacks. Anna’s Wish also inspired a worker at Giggles & Grace Early Learning Center to help, providing money for another 20 backpacks.

Corina Perez, a teacher at Giggles & Grace, said she was touched by Anna’s story.

“I thought it would be a good lesson to teach my children of the importance of helping others,” Perez said. She put up fliers at work and the word spread. She said her colleagues and parents not only donated money for the project but needed items such as stuffed animals and clothes.

“They were awesome,” Perez said.

And the kids in the Treasure Valley Youth Development Academy decided it was a cause they should support as well.

Eddie Melendrez, academy executive director, said he proposes community projects to children at the academy and let’s them select what to work on.

“They jumped at the chance to help a child in need,” Melendrez said. “All the kids didn’t realize the great need we have in our community, currently in our foster care system who have little or close to nothing.”

He said about 20 kids set to work collecting bottles and cans. They set a goal of one backpack, but collected enough to pay for two.

“CASA of Eastern Oregon is thrilled with the outpouring of support that the community has shown,” said Mary Collard, executive director. “We hope this will be an ongoing program so that every child who comes into care in the future will receive their very own bag and items that will be theirs forever.”

Collard said CASA also still needs volunteers to serve as court appointed special advocates. The advocates work directly with children placed into foster care to see their needs are being met by the state system.

Those interested in donating for the backpack project or in learning more about serving as advocates can reach Collard at [email protected] or Bettye Ramirez of the Malheur County unit at [email protected] or 541-709-8134.