Noto Insurance Advisors, a New Jersey based insurance company with offices in Pennington and Lawrenc…
John Noto sat down with Anupa S. Wijaya, Founder of The Bag Project for a one-on-one interview on her journey on creating such a wonderful organization in our community.
The Bag Project is rooted in the founder's passion to help children in crisis and provide them with comfort and dignity. It's what all children deserve but unfortunately not what all experience. The purpose of The Bag Project is to make the transition to a safer place a little easier by providing kids who find themselves in unfamiliar situations with familiar items through charitable donations.
Why did you decide to start The Bag Project?
I started The Bag Project for two main reasons: one was the result of numerous conversations with local organizations and the second was because of my children. Regarding the first point, I learned that the discretionary funding of most local organizations went towards transportation costs which didn’t allow them much flexibility in being able to systematically provide a bag with basic necessities and comfort items to the children that they serve. They relied on donations, however those are unpredictable. Also, offices such as Dept. of Families, Division of Child Protection and Permanency (a government program) are not allowed to solicit donations and have to rely on their budget or unsolicited donations. Bags filled with self care and comfort items were an unmet need that was true across the board. The second reason I started The Bag Project was for my children. I was looking for service projects for my young children and I was not able to find anything age-appropriate and not scary. This is a great service project to do as a family: go to your local store and pick up a duffel bag and fill it with age-appropriate toiletries, a book, comfort items and a blanket and know that it’s going to another child in need.
Since the time of its inception, how has the organization evolved?
The organization has grown quickly over the last two years and as a result of new partnerships, we have already distributed over 1075 emergency bags and 400 activity bags to our partner organizations. We recently began providing teen activity bags, which we hadn’t provided in our first year. We've also moved to a new location where we are able to host in-service or community service events for companies and organizations.
Is there a special memory you'd like to share with us about a child you have been able to help?
We don’t have access to the children who are the recipients of our bags, nor should we, but I do collect information from our partners. Our partners provide us with information on how children have responded to receiving one of our bags. Responses we see often are: they were grateful, thankful, excited and/or happy and that the bags filled an unmet need. I also spoke with a couple case managers at one of our partner agencies and they shared with me how these bags have impacted the teens at their site. The stories they shared were about how the teens were so happy to have a duffel bag to carry their belongings, because it allowed them to look like everyone else on the street. They were no longer carrying their belongings in a garbage bag or a shopping bag but in a proper duffel bag which allowed them to look just like everyone else. I found this to be so moving and I was so grateful that we were able to provide these bags to the children they serve. A bag changed their experience.
How have you noticed the communities reaction towards what you do and how it's grown?
Organizations are now seeking us out for our bags which is amazing. Our goal is to reach as many infants, children and teens in New Jersey as we can. Having said that, we are now in a position where we need to make sure our funding matches the need. The Bag Project had been very well received by individual families, companies and funders. What we provide is tangible and people seem to really like that, they like knowing exactly how their donation will be used, and that it will be used to benefit children in crisis.
How can the good folks of NJ get involved and volunteer or support? Also, what area of your organization needs the most focus from the community?
There are a number of ways that people in our community can become involved. 1) Donate monetarily or in-kind items (please contact us for a specific needs list); 2) host a Bag Drive (again, please contact TBP prior to starting); 3) make/purchase blankets for donation; and 4) if you have contacts at companies that make the products we use, or something similar, (such as stuffed animals, duffel bags, toiletries, etc), please see if they will donate to TBP.