LYNCHBURG, Va. – Growing up in the foster care system is an experience only a few Liberty University students can share.
“Protective services came in and removed my sister and I. So thankfully we were able to stay together, and we were in the foster care system for a little over three years,” Audrey Gregoire, one LU student, said.
“At that moment the cops kind of called the department of child services on us,” Billy Nguyen, another LU student, said.
In their stories, one common item stood out when traveling from home to home.
“I’ve used trash bags all my time in the system, which doesn’t give a person dignity and worth because garbage goes in a trash bag not someone’s belongings, and their whole life,” Gregoire said.
To help more than 300 foster children in the Lynchburg-area, LU covered its stage with 300 suitcases. One for every foster child in the area.
“Lynchburg has the seventh highest number of children in foster care in Virginia,” pastor David Nasser told to the assembly.
For the first time, LU is partnering with Unclaimed Baggage Center, an organization that takes unclaimed suitcases from airports and gives them new purpose.
“That’s what we want to do is provide a voice for these children and an opportunity for people to realize they can connect with them,” Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for Unclaimed Baggage Center, said.
Liberty students painted and packed each suitcase with a stuffed animal, toothbrushes, toothpaste, coloring books and a pillow.
“To have something to call their own, to feel worthy of owning something because they want to feel worthy of belonging to someone, as well. If that’s the gift of a suitcase then, by gosh, let’s paint some suitcases,” Cantrell said.
The goal is help foster children in the city keep their dignity and one day feel like Nguyen.
“They bought me my Nike duffel bag and from that moment I was like, I can walk around in style. Although it was purple, I still loved it because it was my bag,” Nguyen said.
All suitcases were donated to Humankind, a Lynchburg organization, which will deliver them to local foster children.