SALYERSVILLE – A Lexington man traveled to Magoffin last week on a mission to give foster children their own luggage.
For over 30 years Don Pratt was a foster dad, fostering 65 girls and boys as a single father, with one biological daughter of his own.
“You have to think, these kids are removed with emotional damage, in unfamiliar places, with fear and have seen abuse most kids don’t know about, neglect,” Pratt said. “You learn a lot as a foster parent, much like you do as parents, and I saw a need for one kind of provision watching these kids move in garbage bags.”
Over the past 20 years Pratt has collected free used luggage and distributed them to group homes and welfare offices across the state.
“These are pieces that are free – from people donating – and it’s free for me to distribute, so it’s a win-win situation,” Pratt said.
On Friday, December 18, Pratt loaded up his car with as many bags as he could fit in the trunk and back seat, and headed to Salyersville, taking the luggage to the local Cabinet for Health and Family Services office, on Church Street.
Pratt said that the luggage comes from all over as donations, noting that a 12-year-old boy with a host of health problems, but a heart for giving helped collect many of the bags delivered locally last week.
“Not only did he collect luggage for foster kids instead of birthday gifts for himself, but he is also growing his hair out for kids needing wigs who have cancer,” Pratt said. “What an amazing compassionate heart for a child!”
Ironically, Pratt was about the same age when he started his journey with compassion, at first delivering toys.
“The Lexington Fire Department yearly took in broken toys then repaired and/or painted them and the Boy Scouts took them to kids,” Pratt remembered. “In Irishtown, a grown man came out of his house pleading with me, a kid, to get him some blankets. Their house was so cold. I told adult leaders but don’t know if they did anything. That was when I first learned of other human needs.”
As a long-time foster parent, Pratt saw the need for luggage first hand, and has dedicated much of the last two decades collecting and distributing the bags, noting that all types of luggage are needed.
“Backpacks are good for overnight trips, and small carry bags are good for infants and small children,” Pratt said. “Teenagers, the older kids, they like the bigger bags that they can stick under their beds and have their own personal whatnots that will be theirs forever. This way they can move in luggage and not in garbage bags. Carry-on bags and duffel bags may be better for air travel, where the bulkier bags are harder to handle. Kids going back home need bigger bags because they have more to move, if they’ve had good foster parents.”
While Pratt has brought luggage to Salyersville several times to date, he travels all over the state, taking bags wherever there may be a need.
“Kids get very excited about it,” Pratt said of the reactions to the luggage. “Sometimes people donate stuffed animals and blankets, so when I see little kids in these situations, I give those to them. You see the happiness and sort of the security in this type of thing. Some kids aging out of foster care, probably going to college, really need bigger bags, so I’ve taken bags for those kids, and they were so happy. Group home kids are so excited to have something of their very own. I don’t get to see the reaction most of the time, though.”
Pratt said people can contact him by calling 859-552-2235 to arrange a donation. He left his address with the Independent: 912 Royal Ave. (one street away from Winchester Rd.), Lexington, KY 40502.
“They can leave it on my porch any day,” Pratt said. “It happens all the time. Someone is probably dropping off some luggage right now.”
Pratt said people can also contact him through e-mail, at email@example.com.
“I’m glad people are participating and it’s so simple to do,” Pratt said. “Because I was a foster parent, I didn’t get to see much of the state, so now I’m catching up.”