PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — During a given year, children living in foster care could move three or four times. Unfortunately, many of these children have to carry their belongings in trash bags.
Inside Pasco County Extension’s One Stop Shop, there are closets filled with hundreds of suitcases. Some people may call this luggage, those people receiving these suitcases, call it love.
“They are welcome to pick and choose whatever they like,” said Elizabeth Urquiola.
Urquiola runs the Luggage of Love program. She says it’s like Christmas morning handing a foster child a gently used suitcase.
“One little girl said she was going to Paris and she was ecstatic with her new luggage,” said Urquiola.
In the past two years, Pasco County Extension has given away more than 200 suitcases and backpacks to displaced children throughout the county.
“They have dignified means to transport their personal belongings and it’s just very heartwarming to see that,” said Urquiola.
Sunrise of Pasco is one of several organizations in the county that frequently makes pick-ups for children and families in need.
“Most of the time when survivors come into our shelter they come either with nothing or they come with trash bags,” said Cara Donaghy, a caseworker with Sunrise of Pasco.
Donaghy said while many of us take something as simple as a suitcase for granted, for these children, it’s a sense of pride, ownership and hope.
“It’s priceless when they get to wheel their own little suitcase with their own belongings out of the shelter,” said Donaghy.
One Stop Shop takes every precaution to make sure these suitcases are safe, putting every piece inside a device they call “the oven.”
“It’s to sterilize the luggage because it heats up at about 130 degrees,” said Urquiola.
They even include dry erase luggage tags.
“So they can write their information on it, go to the next home, and erase it and not really have a memory of all the recent homes that they’ve been at,” said Urquiola.
With more people looking to get back into traveling this summer if you plan on buying a new suitcase, Luggage of Love would gladly take your old one. You can drop them off at any Pasco County Tax Collector office.
“There are displaced children and folks in the community who can definitely greatly benefit from your donation,” said Urquiola.
For more information about the program, email Urquiola at firstname.lastname@example.org.