Items collected for foster children

ST. MARYS- Since 2010, the Carry-On Campaign has collected luggage, bags and personal items for foster children in West Virginia so they have something to keep their belongings in besides a garbage bag.

Gently used luggage and standard duffel bags have been donated and distributed, but U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin, whose office for the Southern District of West Virginia is a partner in the effort, noticed those weren’t always the most practical answers. Child Protective Services workers needed something they could carry that wouldn’t take up much space but could still hold a lot and appeal to children.

He thought of a “cross between a laundry bag and a military duffel” and sketched it out.

Inmates at the St. Marys Correctional Center made it a reality.

“It’s unique and incredibly functional and obviously made with love,” Goodwin said.

On Wednesday, Goodwin and representatives of the nonprofit Mission West Virginia Inc. and the state Division of Corrections visited the center to formally accept the donation of more than 500 bags designed and made by two dozen inmates in St. Marys’ Correctional Industries program. They will be distributed to children all over the state entering the foster care system.

“It shows that there’s somebody out there who’s thinking of them,” Goodwin said. “Thank you all so much. This is a remarkable gift that you’ve given.”

The bags roll up so small that several can be carried by a CPS worker without taking up much space. When unrolled, they’re a little over three feet in length.

“I tried to stuff it as full as I can, and it’s almost impossible,” Goodwin said.

The state’s Correctional Industries program provides inmates with work experience while making products that are sold to state agencies and county and local governments.

“The inmates (at St. Marys) are trained with sewing machines because these inmates make our socks, our underwear, our laundry bags,” St. Marys Warden Patrick Mirandy said. “A lot of these inmates do take a lot of pride in what they make.”

The inmates work from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and are paid between 27 cents and $1 an hour based on the work they do, the warden said. That money can be spent at the canteen.

One inmate said he appreciates the opportunity to work in a professional setting and give back to the community, especially for a charitable effort like the Carry-On Campaign.

“It’s meant a lot to all of us guys, to be able to give back and maybe help a child not to end up in a place like this,” he said.

The Division of Corrections asked that the inmate’s name not be used out of sensitivity to crime victims.

The more than 500 bags were donated to Mission West Virginia along with more than 500 blankets made by female inmates at the Lakin Correctional Center. Mission West Virginia works to find families for children in foster care.

There are 4,000 children in the state’s foster care system, 1,000 of whom are eligible for adoption, said Carrie Dawson, public relations director for Mission West Virginia.