District 4 County Commissioner Michael Owen spoke about the importance of supporting the program at the recent Duffels of Dignity donation event.

Thanks to an amazing show of generosity by residents, Hillsborough County recently delivered more than 160 duffels, backpacks and suitcases stuffed with personal care items for children in foster care. The donation coincided with National Foster Care Month in May.

The Duffels of Dignity program helps children in foster care or other difficult and traumatic situations who often leave without even a bag to carry their belongings. The program partners with nonprofits throughout Hillsborough County to donate items to its clients. The Children’s Home Network has been a partner since the program started, and most of the items collected through the Duffels of Dignity program are given to youth in foster care or who are temporarily housed at the Children’s Services campus.

The items were delivered to the Children’s Home Network’s new Donation Center on May 25 in Tampa. County Commissioners Michael Owen and Gwen Myers were in attendance, along with Irene Rickus, president and CEO of the Children’s Home Network, and Craig Jewesak, Hillsborough County administrative services coordinator.

Speaking at the event, Owen said, “What this is and what you all are doing here today with these bags, this is a calling to help children and help those that are the most vulnerable in Hillsborough County.”

Duffels of Dignity officially launched in October 2022. The idea came to fruition after Jewesak and his family realized they had extra duffels and smaller suitcases in nearly new condition that could be donated. “Being in children’s services, I am acutely aware of the needs of foster children and the kids who are going through very traumatic experiences, … and the program bloomed from there,” explained Jewesak.

Thursday’s delivery was the largest in the program’s history and will make an immediate impact for Hillsborough youth who need it most. In total, Duffels of Dignity will have donated an estimated 900 duffels, backpacks and suitcases packed with much-needed items such as toothbrushes, combs, shampoo, deodorant and more.

In addition to the Children’s Home Network, organizations that have received donated goods through the Duffels of Dignity program include Metropolitan Ministries, ECHO (Emergency Care Help Organization) of Brandon and The Spring of Tampa Bay, which helps women and their children escape domestic violence.

The program is ongoing, and donations can be dropped off Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Hillsborough County Children’s Services Administrative Office, located at 3191 Clay Mangum Ln. in Tampa. Duffels of Dignity also has an Amazon Wish List. Items purchased from this list will be delivered directly to the Children’s Services campus.

More information and a link to the wish list is available at www.hcflgov.net/duffelsofdignity.

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