MATT GOERZEN/BRANDON SUN
Barry French, right, the staff training co-ordinator at the Brandon Correctional Centre, and wife Ann, who volunteers with Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba, sit with several donated suitcases for kids in need.
When Barry French found out he could help kids in need by collecting suitcases he immediately jumped at the opportunity.
"I saw an email that people were looking for suitcases in Winnipeg, so I thought I could start that initiative here in Westman," French said.
The project was started to help kids involved with Child and Family Services who were using garbage bags to transport their belongings when either moving to a new house or were in transit.
French works as a staff training co-ordinator at the Brandon Correctional Centre but lives in Souris.
He approached Child and Family Services organizations around Westman and asked them if the need was there for suitcases.
Many children moving from house to house are forced to gather all their belongings in a garbage bag. By collecting used suitcases, French is providing these kids with a better way to move their belongings.
"Often these kids already have to grab whatever they can and get out. They are already in a situation where they have little to any dignity and putting things in a suitcase instead of a garbage bag can add a bit of dignity to their situation," French said.
Although the program started just for kids, it has since spread to women’s shelters and other organizations in need of the suitcases.
French started collecting two months ago and has since amassed more than 50 suitcases in Westman. Currently, French and his wife are the only ones collecting the suitcases, which are stored at his house and at the local jail.
"My superintendent has been very kind and is letting me store them there before they go out to the community," French said.
French received 30 suitcases from the sixth annual Brandon scrapbook convention that ran from April 27 to 29. Those who brought in a suitcase to the convention were entered into a draw for a number of prizes. Convention organizers also ran an ad on the radio that called for people to bring in their used suitcases.
Every year, the scrapbooking club contributes to a number of charities and organizations. Scrapbooking committee member Janet Berezowecki noticed the same email as French and decided it was the perfect cause this year.
"We have a number of local organizations that we raise money for and support, and this cause was perfect to run alongside our convention," Berezowecki said.
Every year, they have raised more than $10,000 that is used to assist a number of Westman-based charities.
The suitcase program is not only limited to southern Manitoba.
"Even if we saturated our local market, you could easily send them up north. We have a network they could use to move them on up," French said.
French says he plans to continue collecting suitcases as long as there is a need for it.
"Most agencies are happy to receive them and I am just as happy helping them out, I am just the lucky guy who gets to drop them off," he said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 7, 2012