To mark National Foster Care Awareness Month, Comfort Cases — an international nonprofit dedicated to providing “hope, dignity and resources” to youth in foster care systems — partnered with Empire BlueCross BlueShield HealthPlus to host a “packing party,” during which nearly 40 volunteers stuffed bags full of self care items for local youngsters in need.
Helping hands included Empire BlueCross BlueShield HealthPlus employees and community partners, all of whom gathered at Empire’s 1 Penn Plaza headquarters on May 10 to fill backpacks with items such as pajamas, blankets, a hygiene kit and more.
Over 200 backpacks and duffle bags put together at the packing party were donated to Big Apple-based nonprofits serving youth in foster care — among them, Forestdale, Inc. and St. Dominic’s Family Services.
Empire also presented both organizations with $5,000 checks at the event.
“We’re here today to fill backpacks with love and caring, to distribute to hundreds of foster care children in New York City,” said Dr. Mark Levy, president and CEO of NY Medicaid Health Plan, noting that almost half a million children in the country are in foster care — almost 7,000 of them are based in New York City alone.
Comfort Cases’ founder, Rob Scheer, spoke of his experience in the system, and how it shaped his work with the nonprofit today.
Scheer said he entered the foster care system at age 12 and, though he eventually found a family, they left by the time he was 18. The nonprofit founder said he ended up homeless, but graduated high school and went on to join the Navy. He and his husband now has five kids of his own from the foster care system.
The idea for Comfort Cases started with him carrying his belongings in a black garbage bag as a kid, and seeing his kids using the same bags years later.
“How can we give children a trash bag and expect them to go on a path that we want to see achievement,” he asked the crowd. “We want to be loved, we want to know that we all matter, we’re not disposable.”
Speaking to amNewYork Metro after the event, Dr. Levy remarked on how perfectly the “packing party” fit into Empire’s overall mission.
“Comfort Cases is a pretty special program that really aligns with who we are and what we’re trying to do in the community,” he said, noting that Empire services more than 700 children in the foster care system. “To partake in an initiative that makes their lives a little better is exactly at the core of what we do.”
Once connected to an Empire case manager, Dr. Levy said, children in the foster care system are given the tools they need to help address their “physical, behavioral and social, and pharmacological needs.”
“The key part being their whole health,” he said. “So much of a person’s health comes down to the communities they live in — so events like these really reinforce Empire’s commitment to improving the health of New Yorkers not just on an individual level, but within their communities.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane