Helping foster kids was the goal for volunteers from Rotary Clubs across the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles, who gathered Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Salvation Army in Van Nuys. They assembled bikes, and worked around large tables, decorating duffle bags.

“When kids are placed in foster care, they barely have clothes on their back. They don’t have many belongings and they don’t have a way to transport what they do have. They’re given a black plastic garbage bag to carry their belongings around,” said Michelle Rodriguez, a member of the Woodland Hills Rotary Club.

“It’s very dehumanizing. These [newly decorated] duffle bags will be something they can keep and it shows the kids that somebody cares about them — that’s why one of our focuses for our club this year is foster kids,” she said.

The Rotary Clubs raised enough money to donate the supplies, duffle bags and some of the clubs, Rodriguez said, were even able to purchase bikes.

The Rotary Clubs worked with members of the organization, “Together We Rise,” who facilitated the event.

“Together We Rise,” is made up of those who were previously in foster care and they collaborate with other service organizations including Rotary Clubs to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system and encourage their support.

“When I was a foster mom, I couldn’t stand to see the kids show up at my door with trash bags. They aren’t trash — this is a terrible message given to them,” said one volunteer who has since adopted a child. “Isn’t it hard enough being a foster kid? They’ve already been through a lot. I always purchased a nice suitcase for them, but I know not every foster family does and some foster homes have multiple kids that can come and go. I don’t understand why the county can’t give them one, so having a duffle bag is a big help.”

Members of “Together We Rise,” said it’s surprising for others to learn that every 2 minutes, a child enters the foster care system. Children in foster care can be moved from location to location several times. If a child stays in the foster care system for more than 2 years, they will move placements at least five times.

There are 22,000 foster children in Los Angeles county and 1,600 children in foster care are awaiting adoptive families. Children who are found to be abused or neglected are often placed in foster care and some may be in the system for many years. They can be placed in multiple homes in the foster care system for various reasons which is very difficult and can take an emotional toll.

“One of our avenues of service is helping youth in our community and youth nationally and this year in particular we are focusing on foster care,” Rodriguez said.

For more information about how you can assist foster children and arrange a service project go to: info@togetherwerise.org. For more information on the Rotary Club of Woodland Hills go to: whrotary.org.