Karen Williams, founder of Buddy Bag Foundation, tells us what a difference a bag can make.
Can you imagine being one of them – leaving all they know behind them, clutching their mum’s hand as they arrive in a refuge? This must be one of the scariest moments any child could face. Often these children escape with just the clothes they are wearing as they go along with any opportunity to get out, or they are taken from school.
That’s where we come in. As families step nervously into their temporary accommodation, we offer a glimmer of light – a bag of love – to show we are thinking of them.
It’s not just teddies, but other fun stuff too: crayons, books, a picture frame for that precious photo uprooted with them. Altogether we pack 12 essential items into our ‘Buddy Bags’ and send them off with our love and care.
“It makes my heart swell to know we have already packed and delivered bags for 7,000 children. I am on a mission to make it 20,200 to 300 refuges by 2020 – a target we can easily smash.”
Restoring a sense of safety and security into a child’s life during a traumatic time is one of the first steps to recovery. Buddy Bags are something a child can call their own, no matter where they go. Tailored for everyone from newborn babies to teenagers, they contain everything a child needs straight away, such as toiletries, pyjamas, socks and underwear.
Buddy Bags are funded through fundraising, sponsorship and donations; groups of items can either be donated or sponsored and are filled fortnightly in the Midlands by volunteers.
The idea for the Buddy Bag came during a visit to Australia in 2014. I was inspired by an article about the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, which has delivered more than 50,000 Buddy Bags to children in emergency care since 2007. On my return, I felt driven to research facilities available to children in emergency care in the UK and discovered a huge need for Buddy Bags here.
To ensure as many children as possible could benefit I set up what we then called the Live Love Laugh Foundation to launch our very own Buddy Bag appeal, with the help and support of The Alannah and Madeline Foundation.
The Buddy Bag Foundation is now in its 18th month. We don’t even have a patron (all suggestions gratefully received) but it makes my heart swell to know we have already packed and delivered bags for 7,000 children. I am on a mission to make it 20,200 to 300 refuges by 2020 – a target we can easily smash.
It costs £25 to fill a Buddy Bag; in our first year we raised more than £100,000, which has helped us buy the bags and the items to fill them. More than 600 volunteers have worked tirelessly to collect, collate and pack thousands of items.
As well as help from devoted family and friends, we have now gained support from a diverse sector of groups, ranging from the Girl Guides who even created their own Buddy Bag badge, the Utility Warehouse Discount Club, Amazon, Vodafone and lots of local businesses who have offered their skills free of charge.
Last year I saw the result of these efforts first-hand when I had the privilege of being able to give out bags to children at a refuge centre. The children had just arrived the day before with absolutely nothing to call their own. It was like Christmas morning, they were so excited and happy.
I’m often reduced to tears by the feedback we get from families – why they love their bags and sometimes, how women feel stronger and more sure of their decision to leave, thanks to seeing their sons and daughters happy when they open their unexpected packs of goodies. I won’t give up until we can help all the refuges clamouring to receive our bags. We know we are just scratching the surface – but that doesn’t mean we can’t aim big.
How you can help the Buddy Bag Foundation
• volunteer to pack
• invite a speaker.
Karen Williams lives in Derbyshire and is founder of the Buddy Bag Foundation.