More than 250 suitcases for foster kids rolled into Red Mountain Family Services’ Rio Rancho parking lot Saturday.
It was the windup of the fifth annual suitcase drive Weichert, Realtors — Image of Albuquerque conducted through its Helping Other People Everyday program for RMFS, which provides therapeutic foster care. The luggage came from individuals and businesses in the Rio Rancho/Albuquerque area.
In addition, several local organizations donated $4,150, with Albuquerque International Sunport making the largest single donation, $2,000.
Weichert qualified broker Belinda Franco started the yearly effort based on her memories of being a foster child for years. Foster kids often receive trash bags to use to carry their belongings from place to place.
“Every kid should be able to have a suitcase to go between places until they find their (permanent) home,” Franco said. “…It’s my goal to make sure no foster kid feels like trash.”
She also wants to raise awareness and empower foster children.
“My big message is, your past doesn’t define you,” Franco said.
Five years ago, she called around, looking for an agency that could use the luggage she wanted to donate. She was referred to Red Mountain, and said she likes that the nonprofit allows children to pick out their own suitcases.
Weichert HOPE collects luggage for other entities, as well.
“It really was just started from being a foster kid and knowing how special it is to have your own stuff,” Franco said.
The event included appearances by Duke City Gladiators indoor football players, New Mexico United soccer players and New Mexico Runners indoor soccer team representatives and their mascot, Rio. Viejitos Car Club and Rio Rancho Police provided an escort for a parade of luggage-carrying pickups from Houston Wholesale Cars LLC.
Foster children and foster parents also attended. Participants had their temperatures checked upon entrance and were required to wear masks except when eating the pre-packaged lunches provided.
Red Mountain Family Services Board of Directors President Dominic Serna said the suitcases give foster children dignity.
“It’s just a huge, huge help at a very stressful time for these kids,” he said.
About 2,300 youths are in foster care in New Mexico.
Nationally, he said, about 20,000 youth age out of the foster care system, and four years afterward, only half of them have an income. The average stay in foster care is 20 months, and only half of those youths graduate from high school, Serna continued.
According to the RMFS website, about 47 children enter its program every year and their average stay is six to 11 months.