Members of the South Bethesda Sai Center volunteered on Saturday, Feb. 23, at Comfort Cases in Rockville, MD, a national non-profit center that provides personal supplies for children in the foster care system in the U.S.  Volunteers helped to process donations, count inventory and fill backpacks that provide comfort, hope and love to youth entering foster care. Called “Comfort Cases,” the backpacks are filled with personal items that include a blanket, toiletries, pajamas, a book, and a stuffed animal, providing youth with both essential and comfort items.

Rob Scheer, CEO of Comfort Cases, founded the non-profit in 2013.  Having lost both parents 40 years ago as a child, he entered the foster care system and was brought to a home of strangers with all of his belongings in a torn and tattered trash bag.

Eight years ago, four children, whom he has since adopted, arrived on his doorstep, each clutching a garbage bag holding their few belongings. Scheer was appalled and felt something had to be done to provide dignity to foster children so that no child would have to carry their belongings in a trash bag, making them feel devalued.  An invitation was extended to the community for a Packing Party to assemble what lovingly became Comfort Cases. Since 2013, over 40,000 Comfort Cases have been distributed to foster children in over 30 states.

Many children in foster care have been removed from their homes because of allegations of abuse or due to homelessness. Some have been temporarily displaced because of family emergencies. First responders, who accompany social workers to the home when removing the child, bring with them a “Comfort Case XL,” a large duffle bag for packing the child’s personal and cherished items, so critical at such a time of upheaval. Depending on the child’s age and gender, Comfort Cases backpacks are assembled and sent to the child’s case worker for delivery to the child in their new home.

When they volunteered at the facility that Saturday, the South Bethesda Sai Center members counted and boxed several duffle bags for shipment to first responders. They then formed an assembly line to make Comfort Cases, placing in each colorful backpack personal toiletries such as toothpaste and soap, and other comfort items such as blankets and pajamas. Children 6 and older receive a journal and a book, suggested by volunteer librarians. Additionally, each child, regardless of age, receives a stuffed animal.

One of the Sai Center members said that participating in the service was wonderfully fulfilling. “It is great knowing that a child receiving a backpack will have their own items, making them feel loved and more secure. It also fulfills the organization’s mission of giving children dignity.” Following the service, participants held a drive on two Sundays so that Sai Center members could donate items to be included in the backpacks.