In 2019 there were over 672,000 children in the U.S. who spent time in foster care, according to Childrensright.org. And on any given day, there are nearly 424,000 children in the foster care system. Our state’s Children, Youth and Family Department reported that, in 2019, there were over 4,200 children in foster care at any given time. Many of these children, already facing an uphill battle, do not live in permanent housing and are left to rotate through the system with little in the way of basic supplies. In fact CYFD actively encourages people to donate goods such as books, games, computers, sports equipment, musical instruments, clothing and school supplies. One local business in Albuquerque heard the call and arranged a donation drive of their own.
“A lot of people don’t realize that when these children are taken into the foster care system, they are given [their] belongings in a trash bag,” said Belinda Franco. Franco, president of the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors and co-owner of Weichert Realtors-Image, helped to arrange the drive called Weichert—H.O.P.E. Suitcase Drive (Helping Other People Everyday). Franco knows the foster system well, as she was a foster child herself. She didn’t see the fundraising event as an initiative by one person or one business but rather as an example of a community coming together for the benefit of children that need the help. The drive collected suitcase donations for Red Mountain Family Services, a treatment foster care facility that helps children in their transitions between foster homes. “We feel very strongly that children should never have their belongings in a trash bag; they deserve a suitcase,” said Franco.
The collection, which began on March 1 and continued until the group held the main suitcase drive on March 5, drew sponsorships from nearly a dozen local businesses, including Albuquerque’s IFL team the Duke City Gladiators, who made a financial donation along with suitcases filled with various supplies for the children. “What community is is people coming together and sharing love and sharing hope towards a common goal, and that is exactly what this means to me,” said Franco.
In the midst of a pandemic, events like this are a reminder of what any size business or group of people can achieve when driven by a cause they believe in. By the end of the event, Weichert—H.O.P.E. raised over $4,200 in contributions and received over 200 suitcase donations for Red Mountain Family Services. The suitcases were delivered by a caravan of volunteers. “I feel that the event was an incredible success,” said Natalia Beraun, co-owner for Weichert Realtors-Image. “We are so grateful the community embraced our goal and joined us to make the event successful. We did so well this year, we are hoping to raise five times what we did this year next year, and provide even more help where it’s needed.”