BAGS OF PLENTY: Agency overflowing with items for those in need

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Local student Macy Huber presents part of the Journey Bags volunteer staff with a check from One Body Ministries in Indianapolis. Front row: Hudson Tongate, Macy Huber, Kristen Mojica. Back row: Kym Tongate, Alicia Keesling, Joni Markle, Dianna Adams. Not pictured: Tammy Caldwell, Sara Pechin, Rochelle Shores, Carla Julian, Katie Thurston, Shelby Sweet, Kelly Davis, Carrie Moore-Sorrell, Kristen Walker, Joanie Lemerick, Annie Frischkorn, Arev Millet.

By Shelley Swift | Daily Reporter

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Journey Bags of Hancock County has a problem that would make most nonprofit directors envious: too much stuff to give away to those in need.

“Our problem is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless,” said coordinator Tammy Caldwell, of Greenfield. “We are drowning in the generosity of our community. Each of us who stores donations is stuffed to the gills.”

Journey Bags is run by a group of volunteers who collect, clean, sort and distribute clothing and toiletries to children and adults in need.

Each bag they give away contains a week’s worth of clothing and personal care items, plus one “cuddle item” like a stuffed animal or blanket. Many bags are given to foster parents who take in children who often arrive at their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Journey Bags operates under the guidance of Hands of Hope, an adoption and orphan care ministry based in Noblesville.

Over the holidays, local Journey Bags volunteers worked with God’s Open Arms ministry to play host to a 12 Days of Giving event, which brought in roughly 4,000 items.

The group has collected so much in recent weeks that its storage unit is nearly overflowing.

Caldwell said that’s great news because the group can help more people than ever this year. She just needs to spread the word to those who need it.

The nonprofit gave out 116 bags the first year it was launched in 2019 and distributed nearly 300 last year.

This year the organization is set to well surpass that number.

“Just this past week alone we’ve done 23 bags,” said volunteer Dianna Adams, who helps sort boys’ clothing.

In addition to soliciting donations, each of the group’s 17 volunteers is assigned a specific task to assemble the bags.

Some retrieve items from donation locations and sort through the clothing, tossing out items that are stained or torn. Another group sorts the clothes, another launders them, and others pack them into bags. It’s an intricate system of passing items from one volunteer to the next until all are sorted, bagged and delivered to Caldwell’s home for distribution.

Clothing is accepted for recipients from newborn through size 20. The nonprofit doesn’t distribute coats or shoes but passes along such items to local agencies that do.

Adams loves being able to do her part in the process. The Greenfield woman spends her time collecting donations for various charities, so the role was a natural fit.

As a mother of three, she feels good knowing the work she does benefits kids who need an extra hand.

She often gives bags to friends who are foster parents. “I know those kids often come to their house with nothing, so this provides those kids with a seven-day supply of personal hygiene items and clothing, socks and underwear,” she said.

Macy Huber, a senior at Greenfield-Central High School, met with Journey Bag volunteers last week to donate hundreds of items and a check to support the cause.

“I love that the volunteers continue to fill a need for underprivileged or foster children, and they do it all out of their homes. I thought that was very cool,” said Macy, who tries to do a different service project each year.

She collected over 1,500 items for Journey Bags, after spreading the word through fliers and social media promoting two drop-off days in downtown Greenfield.

She also delivered a $500 check from One Body Ministries church.

Caldwell has been thrilled with the public’s increased support of Journey Bags in recent months. Now, she’s seeking help in spreading the word to those in need of them.

The local Journey Bags group will soon have a “free sale” where those in need can come and help themselves to excess supplies.

“We also work with a number of other organizations like the Salvation Army, God’s Open Arms, Love INC, Department of Child Services and school counselors,” said Caldwell, who is no stranger to giving back. She works as the volunteer coordinator for Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis.

She first got started with Journey Bags because her daughter was a foster parent, and Caldwell saw first-hand how hard it can be to provide for foster kids who arrive with practically nothing.

“Statistics show that if you have a caring community that wraps itself around a foster family, that support extends for multiple years. Those parents are more likely to stick with the program if they have that support,” she said.

To donate, volunteer or receive Journey Bags, call Caldwell at (812) 473-6451.