The Rotary Club of Walcha has just launched 'Simon's Just 4 U Backpacks,' a project to provide backpacks loaded with life's essentials and a few extra comforts to children aged 0 to 16 entering foster care.
The project furthers the work of nine-year-old Walcha boy, Simon Wellings, who decided to forgo birthday presents in favour of his backpacks project last year.
The eldest son in a family who regularly provides emergency foster care, Simon raised $11,000 from the local community, nearby Rotary clubs, corporate sponsors, and private individuals producing 168 backpacks for distribution to children in foster care throughout New England and Northwest.
"That initiative earned Simon various accolades and led to him becoming an Honorary Rotarian," said Walcha Rotary president Andrew Corlette.
"The children Simon assisted are among the most disadvantaged in society, typically the innocent victims of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Simon saw that they need and deserve society's support and did something about it."
Mr Corlette said each year in our region, an 'alarming number' of children are put into foster care.
"The sad truth is virtually no town is exempt from homes where domestic violence and drug abuse results in vulnerable children being removed from their parents and placed in foster care," he said.
"These children often enter foster care placements with little notice and only the clothes they are wearing. They enter homes of kind strangers but with none of their familiar possessions to comfort them."
Working with Simon and his parents, the Rotary Club of Walcha will coordinate with other clubs across the Northern Tablelands and North West (and in time, the Mid North Coast ) to raise funds to continue producing backpacks filled with both necessities and treats for children entering foster care.
"With an alarmingly large number of new foster care placements occurring every year, Rotary aspires to grow the project into one which recurs year after year," Mr Corlette said.
"We are working with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (formerly Family and Community Services) which will distribute the backpacks to foster care kids."
Mr Corlette said he has written to 26 Rotary clubs across the region seeking funds to continue Simon's project. The funds will be used to shop for supplies and pack the backpacks.
"The cost of each backpack is around $70, giving rise to a fundraising goal of $25,000 in the current year," Mr Corlette said.
"This is only a little over double the figure young Simon raised last year all by himself."
Each pack will contain age-appropriate pyjamas, underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste, personal hygiene items, activity packs, storybooks, a cuddly toy, a torch, shampoo, tissues, a drawing pad, textas, sticker sheets, school needs, and more. Most of which was suggested by Simon following his years of experience witnessing the needs of children being brought into his family for care.
Simon will assist the club in advising what to include in the backpacks, and each pack will include a handwritten letter from him.
"It is amazing that Rotary is taking over the project,' Simon said. It would be great to eventually make it International to help kids all over the world."
All agencies involved with Simon's 2020 efforts applauded his initiative and welcomed its continuation through Rotary, Mr Corlette said.
"Agencies reported that recipient children drew great comfort and security from finding someone cared about them," he said.
"This is a fabulous new initiative which is already proven by Simon's 2020 successes to provide valuable, practical assistance to truly needy and deserving kids going through enormous emotional upheaval."
For more information, phone 0412 667 789 or to donate to the project go to the website: https:// donations.rawcs.com.au/80-2020-21
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