PARKERSBURG - Unused suitcases and travel bags can have a new life thanks to a program by the Parkersburg Lions Club.
Jay Carter, third vice president of the Parkersburg Lions Club and chairman of the suitcase drive, said the program was to benefit the Wood County Family Crisis Intervention Center.
Saturday's drive took place in the parking lot of Mahone Tire Service at the corner of 14th and Pearcy streets in Parkersburg.
Jay Carter, left, third vice president of the Parkersburg Lions Club and chairman of the suitcase drive, logs in a piece of luggage and Mike Fleak, president of the Parkersburg Lions Club, puts it on a truck to deliver to the Wood County Family Crisis Intervention Center as Harry Schramm, second from right, district governor of 29L and a Parkersburg Lions Club member, and Barry Mahone, managing owner of Mahone Tire Service and a Lions Club member, look on. (Photo by Jeffrey Saulton)
"Many times when an abused or battered woman leaves her home it is usually with only the clothes on her back," Carter said. "Once they get to the shelter and they have been there for a while, they need something to carry the belongings they have accumulated."
Carter said many times they have to leave with their belongings in a plastic trash bag.
"This allows them to move on with dignity," he said of the suitcase drive. "The point is when the ladies come in they don't have anything, when they leave they don't want to leave with their things in a trash bag because they have nothing. It's more dignified."
Club president Mike Fleak said the idea for the drive came after the club had a speaker from the center.
"The speaker talked about the need for the battered women as they leave the shelter," he said. "Our board, with Jay's leadership, developed this drive to collect from the community."
Fleak said in three hours Saturday, the club collected more than 200 pieces of unused luggage. He said for the most part the luggage pieces were usable, in many cases they were pieces taking up space in a basement, attic or closet. Fleak said some unusable pieces were weeded out Saturday and the center staff will do a closer inspection. After that he said they will disinfect the cases before giving them to their clients.
"We have collected cases of all sizes, some are really good sold Samsonite and other have rollers, some things are high end pieces and some are not," he said. "We've even had some individuals bring purses and backpacks."
Fleak said Saturday's event will not be the end of the club's collection effort.
"We are going to continue this," he said. "On the third Thursday of each month we are going to collect these at our noon meetings at the Blennerhassett Hotel."
Carter said the response from the community has been overwhelming.
"The community response to this has been really great," he said. "To date we had 189 suitcases, and with what we collected (Saturday) we have collected more than 400. Of those suitcases we collected, they are all gone, there is need for them."
Carter said the suitcases collected on Saturday will be delivered Monday.
"That tells you there is an issue and a problem," Fleak said. "This is the Parkersburg Lions Club's part to do something for the center."
Barry Mahone, managing owner of Mahone Tire Service and a Lions Club member, said he donated the use of his lot since it was a convenient spot to set up a truck and pieces have been dropped off there all week.
Harry Schramm, district governor of 29L and a Parkersburg Lions Club member, said similar drives have been done by Lions Club in other areas, but he was not aware of one in West Virginia.
"There are others in the country that may do something like this, but I don't know of too many in the country who do this," he said. "One of our Lions traveled and talked about a project someone did somewhere else and we got the idea from that and we started asking around and found the Wood County Family Crisis Intervention Center could use them."