When executive director Kathy Reid walked into the lobby of the Family Abuse Center in Waco a few months ago, she was astounded by the more than 200 pounds of pillowcases filled with toiletries, household appliances, games, toys and more.
She knows all too well victims of domestic violence who arrive at the emergency shelter often walk away from home with only a purse or a small suitcase filled with whatever they can grab on short notice.
Sometimes they bring nothing but the clothes they’re wearing, she said.
But recently, a small charity started by three River Valley Intermediate School fifth-graders to help abused children staying at the shelter has helped provide survivors what they need to stay strong, Reid said.
“The women tell me all the time, ‘When he broke my arm, I knew it would heal, but when he broke my spirit, it took me years,’ ” Reid said. “The biggest thing we see with so many of our women is it’s not about the physical hurt and the physical abuse. The emotional abuse far outweighs that.
“By the time they come here, so often, they’ve been told they’re worthless. They’ve been told, ‘If I don’t love you, nobody else will. You have no value at all. You’re trash. You’re disposable.’ So any little thing we can do that lets them know people care about them is life changing.”
Chloe Greenmum and Maddie Jackson, both 10, and Kaylie Stone, 11, came up with Pillowcases of Hope with other students after attending a civics camp at Baylor University this summer. as of this week, the girls are in the middle of their second donation drive for the center, which is expected to last through Saturday.
At the iEngage Summer Civics Institute, the girls learned ways to make a difference in their communities and were tasked with coming up with a service-learning project at the end of the five-day camp to show off what they learned.
They did not stop at making a presentation about the idea. The girls wanted it to become a reality, they said. They pleaded with their parents to make it happen, and once Chloe’s father, Peter Greenmum, reached out to Maddie’s mother, Amy Jackson, the idea started to take shape.
But Peter Greenmum and Amy Jackson are quick to tell you the only role they have had since is serving as chaperones on after-school adventures going door-to-door in the Woodway area to let the girls spread the word about their charity.
“We tell them to leave stuff on their doorsteps so we can just go around in the car, and whenever we see stuff we pick it up,” Chloe said. “It was cool, and I never thought it would happen. I didn’t know me and my friends would be doing this.”
The girls have created flyers listing the most critical needs and items that can be given to the center. They also created a website to help spread the word, they said.
The girls spent a couple hours Tuesday walking the side streets off Poage Drive to drum up a new round of donations.
“We’re hoping to get a little bit more than we did last time,” Maddie said. “We need luggage and toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair brushes and everyday items.”
Kaylie wasn’t able to attend the first time the girls delivered flyers to neighbors, which made the second time all the more nerve-wracking, she said.
“I just get nervous in front of people. . . . But I feel if you don’t help someone, you don’t get the good feeling inside you usually do if you help someone,” Kaylie said.
The Family Abuse Center has 64 beds for non-offenders and their children and typically serves 500 people in a year, said Micah Titterington, the center’s outreach and legal advocacy director. But last year, the center served 600 people, and in the past 12 months the center has served about 900 clients, Titterington said. Sometimes the survivors stay only a few days, while others stay for months, making each donation critical, Reid said.
“We’ve done some talks and things for children, and we love to do those because for so many kids, they don’t have any idea maybe the kid next to them at school lives at the shelter,” Reid said. “That would be confidential and private. They wouldn’t know the child gets on the school bus and the last stop from the school bus is here at the Family Abuse Center, but for them to grow up with some empathy for those who are in need is such a critical part of raising children.”
The girls will pick up donated supplies Saturday morning and deliver them the following week, they said.
They also set up a donation box at the accounting firm Pattillo, Brown & Hill LLP, 401 W. State Highway 6, that will be up through Dec. 22. Donors are welcome to drop off supplies at the front office, Amy Jackson said.
“We’re trying to build resiliency, and not just in the children, but resiliency in these women, so that when they walk out of here feeling more confident, feeling like they can make decisions and that their lives matter,” Reid said. “So yeah, 10-year-olds bringing a pillowcase full of hygiene items is pretty amazing.”