By ARIANA R. CHERRY
According to the National Foster Youth Institute, more than 250,000 children are placed into the foster care system each year in the United States. What one might not realize, that when these children are placed into a home – especially if it is an immediate or perhaps an emergency transition, they won’t have many items of their own. This can include anything from clothing, toys or even personal hygiene items.
With the help of their youth group and seeing this truth unfold from a personal experience of their own, Larry and Tammy Noble were inspired to help foster children in local area communities have personal items of their own.
The inspiration began about three years ago when some girls in their church youth group (Arthur Southern Baptist Church) attended what is known as AWSOM Conference. During these conferences, the youth participate in “break-out sessions,” where discussion and ideas are discussed. Their youth members heard about a group who created toiletry draw-string bags and dropped them off at their local DCFS offices. After seeing a cart full of $2 back-packs at Wal-Mart though, Tammy was inspired to do so much more – but she just wasn’t quite sure which direction the Lord was pushing her at the time.
One evening, an opportunity for Tammy and her husband Larry to take in a foster child presented itself. The child was facing a very difficult situation that involved abuse and possible charges with the law, so Tammy decided she would let the child stay with her until something came about. When the step-mom was asked to gather the child’s items, he was given trash bags that were filled with his father’s clothes. There were no personal belongings or even hygiene items such as a toothbrush. “We have seen that when kids are taken out of a home in a rush, they don’t have time to grab items such as toiletries, stuffed animals, and blankets, etc.,” commented Tammy.
After such a personal eye-opening experience, Tammy knew what she wanted to do with the back-packs. Back-packs with specific items were needed for foster children in transition that they could call their own. She and the youth began the new ministry with 20 back-packs and dropped them off at the DCFS in Charleston. After that, the youth took off with the ministry, wanting to help so many foster children in need.
Before COVID, their church’s youth had taken a mission trip to Nashville to see what homelessness was like with their own eyes. They immediately learned what it was like not to have anything of your own. The youth members began creating lists of items to put in the backpacks. With a large number of children in the Illinois area not attending school physically, many back-packs were still available for purchase, and stores began to mark them down to $2 and then down to $1. To move forward with their mission, they purchased most of the backpacks, filling them with toiletry items, school supplies, stuffed animals, blankets and a Bible in October, 120 backpacks were distributed to the Charleston DCFS office. Recently, they gave the office in Macon county, 121 backpacks.
Shortly after, they began to realize that they needed supplies for babies as well. Backpacks were then also filled with receiving blankets, pacifiers, bottles and bibs. They would supply the DCFS office with a variety of bulk diapers in different sizes, so those could be handed out with the backpacks.
After a while, it was decided that this ministry needed a name. It took almost a year to come up with a name that felt right. With careful thought and consideration, they decided to name the ministry after a foster family’s daughter that they knew. Their daughter, Becca (Rebecca)had been killed in a car accident, but had been very active in the church’s youth group. She used to love all of the little children and there didn’t seem to be a time that she didn’t have a child in her arms. Children often warmed up to her first before anyone else. Becca had been one of the driving forces behind the backpack ministry when it first began. To honor Becca’s memory, the ministry was named, “Becca’s Loving Hands.”
“It has grown beyond us,” noted Tammy. “We have 600 back-packs that we need to fill and have storage units for them,” she added. “It is amazing how God has provided us all the things that we need to fill them with. “It amazes me every time,” Tammy commented.
Larry Noble, the youth pastor at Arthur Southern Baptist Church said that with COVID, their youth have not been able to go on mission trips. “We are putting everything we have into the backpacks,”: he said. “We’ve been relying on donations to fill the backpacks. It has been a good year for it,” Larry added. Larry is also an employee at AgroFab. “The plant donated four cases of Bibles to put into the backpacks,” he informed.
If you would like to donate money towards “Becca’s Loving Hands Backpacks,” you may write a check to the Arthur Southern Baptist Church and put “backpacks” in the memo area. If you’d like to donate specific items, there is a list of needs on the Arthur Southern Baptist Church’s Youth Facebook page:
Some of those items include specific school supplies, body soap, deodorant, 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner, Bibles, coloring books, sippy cups, baby shampoo, and toothbrush and toothpaste.
“It is getting bigger than us. We’ve been blessed. God will provide whatever we need to take care of them,” Tammy beamed. “We started going to churches and speaking at them to get other churches on board with collecting items or donations to help with the ministry,” she added.