Thursday, November 09, 2006

Former foster child collects 1000 suitcases for foster children

Youth helps out fellow foster kids
Lee, Dan. Press - Enterprise, Oct. 29, 2006, pg B8.

MORENO VALLEY For his Eagle Scout project, Timothy Buchheit set out to collect 1,000 suitcases and bags for foster children.

He chose this particular project, because, as a foster child himself, he could identify with the pain of being shuffled from one home to another with all his worldly possessions stuffed into a garbage bag.

But never in his wildest dreams did he expect the outpouring of public support in response to his "Suitcases Across America" campaign.

To date, he has collected about 1,500 suitcases and $1,600, which he has used to buy even more bags.

"I was surprised. It was really big," Timothy said of the response.

For Timothy's efforts, Prevent Child Abuse Riverside County will present him with its "Youth Ambassador" award Saturday at a ceremony at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon. He will share the stage with Gov. Schwarzenegger, who also is being honored by the organization that night.

Timothy, who changed his last name from Blankenship after his adoption by his foster family earlier this year, received donations from local service clubs and from individuals from as far away as Temecula and Anaheim.

One Moreno Valley woman even donated her collection of more than 400 Beanie Babies so the foster children could have something extra in their bags, Timothy said.

Roland Buchheit, Timothy's adoptive father, said people had no idea what going through the foster-care system was like before they learned about Timothy's project.

"When they find out, people come out of the woodwork to help," Roland said.

"Americans give a lot."

Timothy has distributed the bags he has collected to a number of foster-family agencies in Southern California. He also donated some to Riverside County's child-protective services.

Ryan Cargando, owner of the Creative Solutions for Kids & Families foster-family agency in Moreno Valley, said he has never seen an individual donate so much to help foster children.

Usually, foster-family agencies solicit donations from corporations, he said.

"It helps the foster children especially when they begin to accumulate things," Cargando said by phone.

Although Timothy knew his project was exceeding his expectations, "I didn't know I was going to meet the governor," he said.

Timothy, 17, is completing his senior year at Vista Del Lago High School and works at a local grocery store. He plans to go to community college for a year, before going on a two-year Latter-day Saints church mission.

He then hopes to earn his college degree and become a forensic photographer, like in the popular TV show "CSI."

And although technically the project is over and he is no longer soliciting donations - he will have his Eagle Scout court of honor in December - he is still receiving and distributing suitcases.

But he hopes the idea will continue and spread nationwide.

"I want to send a letter to Boys Life (scouting magazine)," he said, "and get other scouts to do it."