By Alex Ginsberg
Soap and a washcloth so they can freshen up. A small bottle of water in case they get thirsty. And a stuffed animal and a handwritten poem to help them get through the night.
The contents of a “buddy bag” – while probably not sufficient to hold back the tears of a youngster all alone in a strange place – just might make a small difference for children in the custody of the Administration for Children's Services. Fifty of the tote bags – the culmination of a six-month project by second-grade students at PS 18 in Queens Village – were sent June 12 to ACS's Children's Center in Manhattan for needy boys and girls.
The center serves as a temporary site for children removed from abusive homes. The children generally spend one or two nights at the facility before being placed in foster care – nights that can be traumatic for the overwhelmed youngsters.
“At first, when I heard that there are these kids who are separated from their families, I thought there's not much I could do,” said 8-year-old Zoe Mitrofanis. “But now that I see all these buddy bags, I feel so much better.”
Zoe and the class of about 20 students sat in a rough circle on their classroom floor, eight boxes of buddy bags in the center, as their teacher Cindy Wang, their principal Joy Hammer and a representative from ACS, Justine van Straaten, congratulated them on their work.
Then the children, working in teams of three per box, carried the buddy bags out to van Straaten's car – the first leg of their journey across the borough and over the East River to the Children's Center at First Avenue and 28th Street.
Seven-year-old Olivia Pilling decided to start the buddy bags program with her PS 18 class in December after she read an article in Parents magazine about a national organization, the Care Bag Foundation, that provides similar bags to abused children.
The class, under the guidance of their teacher, spent the next five months choosing which items to include in the bags, purchasing the items and assembling the packages. The funding came entirely from private sources, Olivia's mother Jo Ann said.
“It was your project this year, and you were famous in the school,” Principal Hammer told the class. She said next year it would be expanded to include the entire third grade, with the eventual goal of getting the whole school involved.
The project has already collected $350 in donations for next year's bags, Jo Ann Pilling said.
Other items included in the bags were handmade bookmarks, mini puzzles, tiny books and squeeze balls to relieve stress.
Each bag also contained a handwritten note.
“Hi, hi – Some things you might like are in this bag,” one note written by a second-grader read. “A toy, a pen and something to read. The sun is bright and you are too. I hope you find these things helpful and loads of fun. Even though we never met, I consider you my buddy and so this bag is for you.”
Hammer closed the short ceremony in the classroom by asking the children how the project affected them.
“You find out that you can really make a difference,” said Alexandra Alimaras, 7.
Her classmate Bailey Sheridan, also 7, agreed.
“It feels good to help them out.”
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.