MIAMI, OK.--- As of May 2014, the Ottawa County Department of Human Services reported 62 children in the area were either put into foster homes, shelters, inpatient hospitals, or with extended family members.
"When we get a child into custody, they come with nothing or if there's a change in placement, for some reason, their clothing comes in a trash bag," said Barbara Epperson, Child Welfare Specialist II Ottawa County DHS.
The Ottawa County Suitcase Project is asking the community to donate suitcases that will be delivered to the Ottawa County Foster Care Unit. It's common for children in foster care to move around more than once. A suitcase of their own will allow them to have something to protect their items.
"It just helps put a smile on their face. To have all of their belongings and that they show up at your house with a actual suitcase, and so I, it just helps them feel like they're special," said Teresa Karleskint, Founder of the Ottawa County Suitcase Project.
Due to the increase in foster care children, the Ottawa County DHS is also in need of foster parents. Martha Smith has been a foster care parent for the past year, and says providing a place to stay for children in need is its own reward.
"You don't have to be super parents, you have to keep them safe and love them," said Martha Smith, Foster Care Parent.
Smith says it's the little things that count, and the looks on the kids' faces after receiving a suitcase for the first time was priceless.
"When I brought them in, it took them a while to convince them. 'Yes, they're really yours, you know. If you leave here, when you leave here, you'll take them with them.' So the entire evening was spent playing with them. I mean, the little girl could even fit in the largest one," said Martha Smith, Foster Care Parent.
Those interested in donating to the suitcase project or wanting to become a foster parent, click here