Backpacks help ease painful holidays for kids

10:16 AM, Nov 29, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- If you think of the holidays as a time to be together with family, you're lucky. Because each year for far too many kids, it's the time families are torn apart.

That awful fact helps drive a group of women in Tampa to try to ease that pain. 

Each month, members of the Junior League of Tampa plan for a long night at their headquarters on Davis Islands. They are spread out across a huge room, tucking clothes, toothbrushes, stuffed animals, and more into hundreds of backpacks they call "love bundles."

You've never seen pacifiers or princess pajamas packed with so much care.

The goal is for each backpack to bring a little hope when it's slipped over a pair of little shoulders.

"Through this project, we have been able to pack 13,000 backpacks and deliver them into the hands of children who have been removed from their homes for child abuse or neglect," said the Junior League of Tampa's Nicole Hubbard.

When children are taken out of dangerous homes, they often can't bring anything along. A lot of times, they have nothing to begin with. To them, this simple backpack is really something.

"There's nothing more heartbreaking than when a child leaves a home and all their belongings are in a plastic bag," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Maj. Rob Bullara said.

"It is a very traumatic situation. And this kind of makes them feel a little bit like they're special that day."

In a normal month, the Junior League of Tampa will pack 100 or 120 of these bags. For November and December -- each month -- they'll pack more than 300.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says its child investigations shoot up in the final two months of the year.

Why? Investigators say money problems and tough family dynamics can unravel under the stress of the season.

But for nearly a decade now, the Junior League of Tampa's late-night bag-stuffing sessions have made that pain just a little bit less for the most fragile kids in Tampa Bay.

"If it wasn't for the Junior League, we don't know what we would do," Bullara said.

You can contribute to the Love Bundles program or learn more about getting involved with the junior League at the Junior League of Tampa's website.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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