Duffels for Discharge: Bringing Comfort to Kids Who Can’t Go Home

Kristina Spencer with duffels she has filled for acutely abused children discharged to foster homes.
Kristina Spencer with duffels she has filled for acutely abused children discharged to foster homes.

When Kristina Spencer joined the Seattle Children’s Hospital Protection Program team as its senior administrative assistant last summer, she took on another, unofficial role: director of duffels.

The duffels in question – dozens of brightly colored, kid-sized bags stashed around the Protection Program’s offices – had been purchased with grant money and were phase one of Duffels for Discharge, a project aimed at easing the transition for abused children discharged from Seattle Children’s straight into the foster care system.

Before duffel distribution could begin, however, the team needed additional funds to fill them with clothes, blankets, toys and other items for the children. Spencer made finding the money one of her first priorities.

Spencer spent four years as a nurse staffing coordinator and unit coordinator, so she was very aware of how Seattle Children’s cares for abused children. “I have intense compassion for kids who are injured by the people who are supposed to keep them safe – their parents or caregivers,” she says. “Now I’m part of the team that can have a direct positive impact on their lives.”

Although she’s not a professional fundraiser or grant-writer, Spencer started looking for dollars to fill the duffels. She found her answer when she happened across the Fund for Excellence, an internal grant program administered by Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation that gives startup grants to staff and faculty members for innovative projects.

Spencer applied for a grant, and last October learned that Duffels for Discharge had been awarded $3,600. She started filling and distributing duffels immediately.

A duffel is forever

“Everything in the duffel belongs to the child forever,” says Spencer. While Child Protective Services and foster families provide for the basic needs of these vulnerable children, the duffels offer something extra, she notes, “something special that belongs just to them.”

Since October 2014, the Protection Program has given away 16 duffels – stuffed with clothing, pajamas, toothbrushes, toys, blankets, books and other items.

More than 30 more duffels are packed for different age groups (infants, toddlers, school-age children and teens) and are ready to give away when they’re needed.

About 75% of the bags distributed so far have gone to babies under age 1; these duffels include hand-knitted purple hats (courtesy of the Protection, Advocacy and Outreach Program’s Period of Purple Crying initiative) and information for foster parents about safe sleep.

Spencer is spending the grant money strategically to make it go as far as possible. She works with Strategic Sourcing to order items in bulk to keep costs low, and she has reached out to companies directly to ask for discounts. As a result, the Protection Program has forged a relationship with Halo, which makes sleeper blankets for babies. The company donated $1,000 worth of sleepers and offered more at a fraction of the retail price.

Others in the community have also stepped up to help fill the duffels, including residents of an assisted-living facility in Redmond, Wash., who are making and donating blankets.

Special delivery

Physicians and social workers from the Protection Program’s SCAN (suspected child abuse and neglect) team loop in Spencer when a patient meets the Duffels for Discharge criteria, and she personally delivers the duffel to the unit coordinator or the child’s bedside nurse.

Gloria Ibarra, a unit coordinator on the Medical Unit, has helped Spencer give away four duffels, and she says each one has been gratefully received by a nurse or foster parent. “It’s very touching to look in the bag and see a set of pajamas, a book, an emergency kit for a child’s first night in foster care,” she says.

The Fund for Excellence grant money helped propel duffels into the hands of children who need them, but the grant was never intended to provide ongoing support. Spencer expects the current stockpile of duffels to hold out for quite a while, and she’s committed to finding a new source of support to sustain the program.

If you’d like to support Spencer’s efforts, visit our donation page and specify that your donation go to “Duffels for Discharge.”