DONNELLSON, Iowa — Two garbage bags.

For a child being moved into a foster care setting, that frequently is all the luggage they have when the social worker comes to take them to their temporary home.

The Hawk Eye (http://bit.ly/2cGXJtr ) reports that Sara Roth was three days old when she arrived at her first and only foster home, so she doesn’t have any memory of what, if anything, came with her or how it was carried. But the image of an older child, dealing with the trauma of being separated from their parents due to some kind of trouble at home and standing at a foster parent’s door with nothing but trash bags to hold their belongings, motivated her to do something to help.

That help wound up coming in the form of bringing a touch of dignity to a child’s arrival at a foster home. Thanks to her efforts this year, efforts that were recognized with blue ribbons at the Lee County and Iowa State fairs, dozens of area foster children will be provided with a good-quality duffel bag to carry their things in.

“I was very lucky,” said Sara, who was adopted by her foster parents, Lora and Les Roth. “There are a lot of kids in this world that haven’t been lucky and get to stay in one house.”

Sara, who turned 14 in June and is an eighth-grader at Holy Trinity Junior/Senior High School in Fort Madison, has never known another home.

The youngest of three, Sara shares a birth mother with older sister, 19-year-old Danika Roth. Like Sara, Danika was taken in by the Roths at 10 days old, and later adopted by them. She came to them because the regular infant foster-caregiver in the area was away on vacation. Adopting Danika meant getting Sara, too.

To the girls, who have no relationship with their birth mother, Les and Lora are Dad and Mom. Their older brother, Brady Roth, is 23 and his parents’ only child by birth.

“They like to tell him,” Lora Roth said, “‘Mom and Dad picked us. They got stuck with you.'”

More than his sisters, Brady grew up among foster children who were welcomed to their farm northeast of Donnellson. In fact, Les and Lora had been foster parents for two years by the time Brady was born.

Over the course of 14 years, the Roths fostered about 70 mostly younger children but a few teens, too, many of whom arrived carrying their things — usually just clothes — in trash bags.

The reasons for the children being removed from their homes were many, ranging from neglect or abuse, to drugs in the home, the parents being in jail and more.

“It’s very hard to say no,” Lora Roth said.

They started becoming more choosy about accepting foster children after Sara came home, and because Danika has a heart condition; and stopped taking them altogether when Sara was 2. The Roths’ last was a little girl who the family fell in love with, Lora Roth said, but they were not able to keep her. Sara remembers holding the baby, and can recall a boy who stayed with them when she was little.

Although Sara didn’t share the foster-child experience in the way older children who are taken from their homes do, she still feels a kinship to the children her parents have shared stories about.

Sara is a member of the Lucky Clovers 4-H Club, and was casting about earlier this year for a community service project. The idea of a fair entry came later. When she expressed an interest in doing something to support other foster children, her mother pointed out a program she learned about online from Together We Rise, a California-based nonprofit that provides assistance to foster children, supplying duffel bags — called Sweet Cases — to social services agencies to provide in lieu of trash bags when removing a child from a home.

“I like to think it would have meant a lot to them,” Lora Roth said, thinking of her former foster children getting one of the bags.

In the bags from Together We Rise, foster children get not only something nicer than a Hefty bag, they also get something to call their own.

“It’s at least one thing that will stay with them wherever they go,” Lora Roth said.

And its not just the bag. Included in each is a stuffed toy bear, a blanket and crayons and a coloring book. The bags also can be customized however the sponsor wants.

The bags from the 68 kits Sara was able to purchase with the $1,800 she raised — money came from her club, donors at a club pancake breakfast, family and friends on Facebook and random people who received a fundraising email about the project forwarded by Lee County Extension — were decorated with words and pictures drawn by her sister, members of her 4-H group, an affiliated club for boys, the Busy Workers, and students in her seventh-grade art class at Holy Trinity.

When Lee County human services officials said they didn’t have the ability to take the bags, they were provided instead to Iowa Department of Human Services offices in Des Moines and Van Buren counties, and to Insight Human Services, a program of Young House Family Services in Burlington.

In a letter acknowledging the donation, Greg Lorber, social worker supervisor in the Des Moines County DHS office, wrote “hopefully the bags that you have provided will lessen the trauma” of being removed from the home “and comfort them during their tough time of transition.”

Staff from the Van Buren/Jefferson/Washington County DHS office wrote in a thank you note: “Keep up the good work. Make friends with kids who need a good friend and we can change the world one at a time.”

For Lora Roth, the project was confirmation her youngest child “has a big heart.”

Together We Rise offers a variety of program options to support foster children. In addition to travel bags, there are low-cost bicycle kits to build and donate to a foster child, and scholarship funds to help foster children pay for college or a trade school.

Sara, who has aspirations of being a music teacher and a foster parent, isn’t set on whether she would like to reprise the bag project, or raise money for a scholarship. There is one thing she is certain of, though, and it’s that Together We Rise hasn’t seen the last of Sara Roth.

“I hope to do it again,” she said. “And I hope to do it again soon.”


Information from: The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by The Hawk Eye