Trash Bags Are for Trash

Trash Bags Are for Trash

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Trash Bags Are for Trash

What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?

George Eliot

I walked through the den on my way to get ready for bed and looked once again at the amazing mountain of duffel bags. Each bag had a stuffed animal, a luggage tag and a note from me inside of it. The pile of bags went from floor to ceiling, more than five thousand bags, enough for each and every foster-care kid in three states. My dream was coming true—big time.

After I went to bed, right before I went to sleep, I closed my eyes and thought back to when it all started . . . when I got the idea for my dream. . . .

I had been in second grade when I went with my two brothers and my parents to Paris, France. My brothers, Brock and Cory, and I had entered an essay contest about what we were going to do to change the world to make it a better place to live. We won and were chosen as three of ten kids who would represent the United States at the Children’s World Summit. Nine hundred kids from around the world were chosen to meet with each other and talk about world issues. We exchanged ideas on solving the problems in our world today and had lots of fun during the days we were together.

While I was there, I met two foster-care kids. They were two boys, and after getting to know them, I learned a lot about what foster-care kids go through. They told me that when kids go into the foster-care system, they don’t just lose their parents and their home, sometimes they are also separated from their brothers and sisters. Not every foster-care home wants to care for an entire family of kids. Foster-care kids also lose most of their toys and clothes. They told me that when the kids are picked up from their home by a social worker, they are given only a trash bag to put their few belongings into. This trash bag is what foster-care kids carry with them when they are moved from home to home.

I felt really sad when I heard this. I couldn’t even imagine what life would be like without my family and home— much less what it would be like to have to live out of a trash bag. Trash bags are for trash, not for kids to carry their belongings in.

After I came home from France, I saw an after-school movie that was about a girl living in foster care. It was just like what the boys had described to me at the Children’s World Summit, and it made me cry. Right then I decided that I wanted to help foster-care kids. These kids needed my help, because they were not being respected like they should be.

My whole family is into volunteering. Brock and Cory had started a project after they saw a show on television about some kids who died in a fire. The kids had died because the fire department didn’t have this special camera that can see through smoke to find people in a burning house. My brothers began Project Rescue Vision in 1996 to raise needed money for our town’s fire department. Of course, I helped too. I was only four years old, and I was the “President of the Art Department.” My job was to hand-color all of the information envelopes that were given out. I helped them until I was seven. Then I began my own project for foster-care kids.

I started by asking my mom to stop at garage sales when I saw suitcases or duffel bags for sale. I would tell the person who was having the garage sale what I wanted to do with the bags, and most of the time they gave me the bags for free. I tried to put myself into the mind of a foster-care kid, and I decided that the kids should have a stuffed animal in the bag, too. I figured that if I was in that situation I would want a cuddly friend to hug when I was sad and felt lonely for my parents. People often gave those to me for free, too.

In October 1998, I helped organize a luggage drive during our local “Make a Difference Day.” Some congresspeople and senators showed up to give their support, and I came up with this idea for everyone to get their hand painted and then put their handprint on a big banner to show that they had made a difference that day. I got all these kids to help paint people’s hands. It was really funny to watch these important people have their hands painted.

The senators and congresspeople went back to Washington and told other people about my project, and then a company named Freddie Mac set up a grant for me and donated fifteen thousand dollars. I am the youngest person they have ever granted money to. Because of this grant, I had a story about my project and me on the cover of the Washington Post. Then the most amazing thing happened. President and Mrs. Clinton read about me and wanted to meet me. I was really excited! They were so nice, and I gave the president one of my bags with a Beanie Baby in it to give to any foster kid that he may meet. A few days later, he sent some bags to me from his own collection to give to foster-care kids, so I did.

My project really started growing because of all the media attention. Radio stations called me for interviews about what I was doing and some TV shows had me on. More people then heard about me from the TV and radio interviews and from word-of-mouth, and they called me to offer help.

Every week I called my friends and family to see if they wanted to come and put together bags. I always had help from many people. My class even helped, too. My teacher announced to my class what I was doing, and everybody started bringing stuffed animals and duffel bags to school. One of my friends brought in ten big bags full of stuffed animals!

On each bag, I put a luggage tag designed by me. On the front of each luggage tag is a picture of a girl and a suitcase with wheels on it. In each bag, I put a cuddly stuffed animal and a special note I wrote, letting them know that I love and care about them. My mom helped me type this note:

Dear Friend,

Hi, my name is Makenzie Snyder. I am nine years old, and I’m in the third grade. I collect suitcases and duffel bags as an act of kindness for those who are in need of them. God told me you could use a duffel bag and a cuddly friend so I sent this with love to you. I want you to always know that you are loved, especially by me. And, always remember to be positive, polite and never give up.

Love, your friend,
Makenzie Snyder

After the bags are stuffed, I call social workers to tell them they can come and pick up the bags to hand out to the foster-care kids. I have had a lot of support from several big companies, schools, churches, organizations and individuals who have donated money, or sent me bags and stuffed animals. I’ve even been on the Rosie O’Donnell Show! Several thousand bags have been sent out so far, and right now I have five thousand more ready to go, sitting in my den. Those bags will go to kids in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

I have had a lot of help from a lot of people, but most importantly from my parents and my brothers. My brother Brock came up with the name for my project. He said I should call it “Children to Children” since it was all about kids knowing what other kids want and helping them get it. My brothers have also given me good advice about always sending thank-you notes to the people who help me. They told me I had to work hard, call tons of people and to never give up . . . and I haven’t.

I know that this is just the beginning. There are 530,000 foster-care kids in the United States. My dream is for all the foster-care kids in the entire United States to receive a duffel bag and a cuddly friend. I know it can be done if everyone helps out. It is a lot of work but I never get tired of it. I remember the girl in the movie that I saw. If she had been given one of my duffel bags, she would have known that someone out there cared about what happened to her. I don’t want any kid, anywhere, to go through what she or the two boys did. Kid to kid, Children to children— that’s what it’s all about.

Makenzie Snyder, nine

[EDITORS’ NOTE: If you would like more information about Children to Children, go to Makenzie’s Web site at www.children]

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