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2017-07-05 / Shorts

The Be Bag Project

Hand-sewn tote bags filled with goodies bring comfort to children in need
Hyun Soo Lee

Photo courtesy Siri NewmanPhoto courtesy Siri NewmanSome people are fortunate enough to have known a stable childhood without the stresses of frequent moving or family upheaval — others may not count themselves so lucky. For kids who are struggling through difficult times, a local grassroots program called the Be Bag Project aims to bring comfort and compassion to those who need it.

The Be Bag Project is an ongoing initiative to demonstrate compassion to children staying at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center’s battered women’s shelter, as well as the local homeless shelter Housing Transitions. Each child is greeted with a hand-sewn tote bag that usually contains a blanket, books, a stuffed animal and other goods; the bags for older kids may include journals, coloring books and gift cards. The project was conceived during the summer of 2015 by State College resident Siri Newman, who drew upon her experience working with a similar program at Colorado State University.

“I had a lot of experience working with college-age students who came from a background of experiencing lots of movement or transition in their life — like foster families or group homes,” Newman recalls. “I know how difficult that was for college students, so I just started with general acts of kindness toward them and [helped them feel] like they mattered. When we relocated here, I looked around and saw the opportunity and pitched in.”

Photo by F.A.L. Design PhotographyPhoto by F.A.L. Design PhotographyWith the help of her two daughters, Newman built the program around the idea of making tote bags for the women’s shelter. She wanted to create something specifically for kids who are staying in new, unfamiliar places — those forced to leave their homes quickly who don’t have access to their favorite things. That first summer, the Newmans reached out to friends, families and people across the country for donations of items for the tote bags. Using materials from San Francisco-based nonprofit Project Night Night, they made and gave away 80 bags, which built plenty of momentum for the project.

This January, the project underwent an evolution thanks to members of Leadership Centre County, in which Newman was participating. The group collected fabrics, designed the bags and collected additional items like pillowcases and gift cards in order to serve different age groups of children. The project also expanded to serve Housing Transitions.

Though Newman has never seen any of the children who are given the bags, she says she can get a sense of the impact the project has made through feedback from Jeremy Armstrong, a counselor at CCWRC who has supported the project since its inception. “My sense [is] that it’s impacting each child through kindness, compassion, support and encouragement,” Newman says. “That’s a huge impact — to help one person feel loved and cared for when they’re in the middle of a very difficult time in their life.” Photo by F.A.L. Design PhotographyPhoto by F.A.L. Design Photography

The Be Bag Project has been given a seed grant from New Leaf Initiative and recently received 80 hand-sewn bags from students at The Makery. Ulta, the Honey Locust Home Soap Company, The Animal Kingdom and Scraps & Skeins also have partnered with the project. Along with a small group of women she calls the “B-Team,” Newman hopes to build a similar network in other Centre County communities.

“I want to make sure we’re addressing the needs of other areas,” she says. “And make sure we’re not overlooking anybody that needs these bags.”

She says she admires her daughters Sage and Parker — who have just finished sixth and third grade, respectively — for their hard work and selflessness in carrying out the project. But most of all, Newman credits Be Bag’s success to the community for its generosity.

“This community has so many people that are caring and willing to give back,” she says. “I just really appreciate that — and I think that’s what makes this project possible.”

For more information and updates about the project, visit facebook.com/TheBeBagProject.

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