In Jan. 2000, when Annie Wignall was just eleven years old, she learned from her mother (a child abuse prevention educator) that many kids in foster and crisis situations have to leave their homes with nothing. She couldn’t imagine not having her own toothbrush, toothpaste, soap or shampoo. Seeing a need in her community and wanting to help others overcome their challenges, Annie came up with the idea of filling beautiful fabric “Care Bags” with new, donated items. “Every kid deserves to have the things they need. I love kids and wanted to do something to help make their lives easier and better”, says Annie.
Annie began quietly, contacting 2 local agencies about her plan and offering to provide 20 Care Bags every month. She recruited volunteers to sew cloth bags and hand-delivered letters to local businesses seeking donations of toiletries, books, toys, and other new, essential, safe, fun and age appropriate items. To make distribution easy and because she never meets the recipients, she attaches a color-coded poem with a message of hope to each bag to say she cares.
As news of this innovative project spread and support for it grew through numerous speaking engagements and media attention, donations soared and requests from agencies for her assistance increased significantly. Becoming a legal, nonprofit, charitable organization, the size and scope of Care Bags outgrew her home. With the help of the Mayor of Newton, a new local headquarters was secured for storing items and filling the bags.
Annie, now 15, has received numerous local, statewide and national awards for her efforts, including meeting President Bush, but she feels the best reward she could ever get is knowing she has helped someone and encouraged others to help too.
Now, over 3 1/2 years later, 100+ Care Bags are filled monthly and then distributed by 30+ agencies serving displaced, abused and disadvantaged kids (ages baby-18 years). Annie’s Care Bags are enjoyed by over 1200 kids a year worldwide (through partnerships with international groups), to other states for disaster relief (such as following terrorist attacks on 9-11), and to needy kids in over 80 Iowa towns. To date Annie and her recruited volunteers have filled nearly 5000 Care Bags.
With the help of the Care Bags 4 Kids web site ( www.carebags4kids.org ), pamphlet and Care Bags Starter Kit (which is available by email only), Annie has inspired countless businesses and volunteers to donate items and 40+ different groups have joined in her efforts to help kids by “adopting” her idea and starting similar projects in their own communities and countries.