Vickroy: Totes help homeless kids sleep in peace
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 May 4, 2012 10:36PM
Aleida Netzel poses with items she and other local women put together in comfort totes for children who experience trauma. The bags are filled with toys, books, etc. The bags are distributed by local agencies, including Together We Cope. She is pictured at her home in Orland Park, Illinois, Friday, April 27, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Project Night Night:
Together We Cope:
Updated: June 7, 2012 8:06AM
We tend to think of it as an adult problem, but homelessness causes major upheaval in a child’s life, too.
Statistics show that one in 50 American children will be homeless at some point in their lifetime.
“The impact is just tremendous,” said Ana Wilson, principal of Tibbott Elementary School in Bolingbrook. “It affects academic work, and it affects a child’s social network.”
Wilson and her sister, Aleida Netzel, an attorney who lives in Orland Park, understand. They’ve been there. They are Cuban refugees whose parents sneaked them out of the Communist island nation in 1963.
“We came here with nothing, literally. My mother even lost her shoes on the way over,” Wilson said. “We relied on the kindness of others.”
Though that was a long time ago, Wilson said, “it still tugs at our hearts to see children in need.”
Through hard work, the sisters were able to parlay education into a new life. Both, however, remain dedicated to helping those less fortunate.
Recently, they hosted an afternoon tea party at Netzel’s Orland Park home to fill tote bags for Project Night Night, a national nonprofit group that supplies tote bags filled with a stuffed toy, a children’s book and a blanket to homeless children. Through the help of more than 10,000 volunteers, the group is able to donate more than 25,000 packages, free of charge, each year to children in need.
Netzel and Wilson decided to turn their collection drive into an afternoon affair, replete with tea and, well, crumpets.
“Everyone dressed up, wearing hats and gloves,” Netzel said.
And everyone brought supplies for the bags. The combined effort resulted in 60 filled canvas bags. Wilson took half to Hesed House, a women’s shelter in Aurora, and Netzel brought the others to Together We Cope in Tinley Park.
Ann Rodgers, client service manager for Together We Cope, said the Project Night Night bags “give little ones a sense of security, if only for a short period of time. The soft fuzzy animal brings comfort, the blanket brings warmth and the storybook lets a child snuggle with an adult for a few minutes and have something normal in his or her life.”
“We recently gave three of these bags to children of a family who came to us the very day they were removed from their apartment for lack of rent money. The single mom had been getting child support but lost it when her ex-husband lost his job. There were no family members locally to help them out,” Rodgers said.
“I can recall very well the 6-year-old girl, whose eyes lit up when she was given the tote bag. She grabbed the stuffed animal and hugged it tightly to herself. It was the one bright spot for this child in a day that had been horrible.”
Wilson learned about Project Night Night through No Excuses University, a network of educators that recognizes the devastation of homelessness and abuse.
“Any disruption in education becomes yet another obstacle to achievement,” Wilson said.
Netzel is an attorney for Coordinated Advanced Referral Programs for Legal Services (CARPLS). A lot of the women who call its hotline are dealing with domestic violence.
When a caller indicates she is in danger, Netzel said, “we tell her to leave immediately.” The children typically leave home with only the clothes on their backs, she said. A tote bag filled with comfort can mean a lot.
“Most children don’t come to a shelter with books and blankets,” Netzel said.
Project Night Night provides volunteers with the bags. After they’re filled, volunteers attach tags to the bags, indicating the gender and age for which each is intended.
When you’re homeless, a book is a treasured commodity, Wilson said.
“When you don’t have money for food, you certainly don’t have any for books,” she said.
When you’re homeless, it’s important to know that somebody cares.
“Because you just never know, you could be on top of the world one day and lose everything the next,” Wilson said.