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West Virginia-based TSA officers convert old uniforms into knapsacks for foster children

Donations of bags, toiletries, personal items go to local foster children in need

Local Press Release
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
TSA officer working on sewing knapsack

CHARLESTON, W.Va - Transportation Security Administration officers throughout West Virginia stepped out of the airport checkpoints to lend a hand to foster children across the state and literally gave the shirts off of their backs to help out.

TSA officers from West Virginia donated 109 bags—19 of which were filled with toiletries—and more than 350 additional personal items for use by foster children in West Virginia as part of what is known as the Carry-On Campaign, a program operated through Mission West Virginia, a non-profit organization that accepts donations of new or gently used luggage or duffle bags and encourages donors to pack the bags with essential items such as toiletries, books, non-perishable snacks, coloring books, stuffed animals and flip flops.

“The goal of the Carry-On Campaign is to eliminate garbage bags as an acceptable form of luggage for children in foster care,” explains Sandra Williams, a TSA officer with Greenbrier Valley Airport (LWB) in Lewisburg, West Virginia, and an active member of the TSA West Virginia Employee Advisory Council, which spearheaded TSA’s effort to participate in the Carry-On Campaign during the TSA officers’ off-duty time.

But TSA officers did more than encourage donations. Several TSA employees used their creative sewing skills to repurpose old bright blue TSA uniform shirts, curtains and table linens by crafting drawstring back packs and duffle bags for the children.

The familiar bright blue TSA uniforms must be returned to the agency when they need to be replaced or when someone leaves the agency. The uniforms are then stripped of their government identifying patches before they are discarded.

“We thought about it and realized we could make the best of the old uniforms” instead of discarding them, said Cherrie Ann Howell, a TSA officer from Raleigh County Memorial Airport (BKW) near Beckley, West Virginia. “Instead we would use the uniforms as resources.”

“We even sewed pockets into the toiletry bags that we made,” said Williams of the bags that were sewn at LWB.

TSA officers from different airports teamed up in their charitable efforts. TSA officers from LWB developed a sewing pattern for the draw-string knapsacks and toiletry bags and officers from Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport (PKB) near Parkersburg, West Virginia, and LWB made the backpacks and toiletry bags. Officers from the larger airports such as Yeager Airport (CRW) in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed new and gently-used suitcases and duffle bags that they filled with toiletries for the foster children. And still others donated cash. Howell, who is a pro at using coupons, used the donated cash in combination with her coupons to maximize the amount of toiletries she purchased to fill the bags.

“A lot of energy went into the making of the bags and the collection of the items,” said Pat Grubb, a Lead TSA officer from Yeager Airport (CRW) in Charleston, West Virginia. “People gave from their heart.”

“Our officers serve the community in their jobs, but they also are equally committed to coming together to make a difference when they’re not working at the airport. In this case they helped local children,” said TSA West Virginia Federal Security Director Karen Keys-Turner. 

“The children go through enough trauma being moved out of their homes, often with no belongings,” said Lead TSA Officer Wendy Cannon from PKB. “We wanted to give them something that they could call their own.”

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