Two sisters, both given up for adoption, have taken on a personal mission to give hope to children in foster care.
Julianna and Maleah Lee, both sophomores at Celina High School, are spearheading a program called Belong Bags. The program provides children in foster care a sturdy duffle bag to transport their clothes and personal items so they don’t have to use a trash bag or pillowcase.
“It was so sad for me to learn that kids in foster care often put their stuff in trash bags or pillowcases because they don’t have anything else to use. They are living out of a trash bag. No kid deserves that,” Julianna says.
The mission to let foster children know “they truly belong” is why Mercer Savings Bank selected Belong Bags as the February recipient of its Giving Mission donation.
Related article: Giving Mission Spotlight: Empowering Darke County Youth
Belonging from the Beginning
Julianna, adopted from India, and Maleah, adopted from Guatemala, both say they feel blessed in their lives today and have a strong desire to give back to help other children.
This determination is what led Julianna to begin the Belong Bags program in November 2017. Since then, she has given 400 bags to foster children in six counties in Ohio, and her sister Maleah has joined the effort. Their mother, Diana, oversees the finances and helped get the program set up with its own nonprofit status.
To add to this, Maleah recently took on her own initiative by starting a program she is informally calling Bundle of Books. The program donates a bundle of children’s books to mothers of newborns at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater and also places a book in the Belong Bags for the foster children.
“The two projects are sort of joining together,” Maleah says. “And we hope to grow both.”
Teens on a Mission
There is no stopping the Lee sisters. Julianna has goals to grow the Belong Bags program so that it supplies bags to foster children across the entire state of Ohio. For Maleah, she is hoping to expand the Bundle of Books program into surrounding hospitals and then continue to grow it from there.
All donations to Belong Bags go toward purchasing and printing the bags. Coldwater business Totally Promotional, a promotional products supplier, orders the bags and prints them with the Belong Bag logo and a Bible verse chosen by the Lee girls.
“It only cost a couple of bucks to produce a bag,” Julianna says. “It doesn’t take much to make a difference in the lives of several children.”
The bags are distributed by social service and nonprofit organizations in each county.
“We are learning so much through these projects,” Julianna says. “We are learning from the business aspect to speaking skills to what it really means to make a difference.”
“We’re also having a lot of fun,” Maleah adds. “And it’s great when others from the community join in too.”
How to Donate to Belong Bags
To donate to Belong Bags, make checks payable to The Belong Project c/o Diana Lee, 922 Lilac Street, Celina, Ohio 45822. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I want to thank Mercer Savings Bank from the bottom of our hearts for their donation,” Julianna says. “We greatly appreciate this, and it means so much to us that a community organization is jumping in to help support our mission.”