Alisha Leopold, 31, remembers the contents of her backpack when she was taken from school to a foster home her junior year of high school.
The only personal items she was able to bring with her on such short notice were her textbooks and a Fruitopia soda.
“I remember the feeling when I went into the bathroom and I didn’t have a toothbrush,” Leopold said. “I didn’t have soap or anything to just use. When that happens you don’t feel human.”
Now a mother herself, Leopold wants to help children transitioning into foster care through a donation drive to provide them with luggage and basic toiletries. Leopold is the chairwoman for the donation drive through the Temple Emanu-El Mitzvah Day on May 1.
Like Leopold, many children who are removed from their homes for foster care couldn’t have anticipated the move and don’t have time to pack their belongings as a result.
“A lot of times they just grab their stuff in a rush, so they usually just have garbage bags,” Leopold said.
In some situations, pending cases involving parents make it impossible for the children to contact them to arrange for their things to be brought to them.
“I got my first cavity when I was in foster care,” Leopold said. “I used a washcloth, baking soda and salt. That’s what I did. I was too ashamed to say that I needed a toothbrush.”
Being her first attempt at a donation drive Leopold, set a goal of collecting 80 luggage pieces and has already collected more than 100 gently used carry-on suitcases, duffle bags and backpacks. The luggage drive is part of the larger event of Mitzvah Day at Temple Emanu-El, in which members of the congregation complete a variety of service projects.
The luggage and toiletries will be collected and packaged on May 1 to be delivered to the Safe Children Coalition which works under the leadership of the Sarasota Family YMCA to assist abused and neglected children and their families.
“The personal touch is that we’re including toiletries, toothbrushes and toothpaste in each one so that they can just pick one out and call it their own,” Leopold said.