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Mabton students share 'love luggage'

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Picking up "love luggage" at Mabton Junior Senior High School on Thursday was Gilbert Saenz (R), a social worker with Child Protective Services in Sunnyside. Handing the luggage to Saenz are (L-R) Mabton students Edgar Amezcua, Calixco Rivera, Jonathan Melendez and Andy Martinez.

MABTON - Stacked against a wall, 25 decorated suitcases in teacher Betsy Desmarais' resource room at Mabton Junior Senior High School made it seem students were preparing for an adventure.

Instead, the luggage her students painted were destined for less fortunate youngsters who face an adventure not of their choosing.

Inspired by the book Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, "love luggage" are decorated suitcases the Mabton students created then gave Thursday to Child Protective Services of Sunnyside for children moving into a foster home.

"It may eventually end the sad image of a child walking away from a home with all their belongings stuffed into a brown paper or plastic trash bag," Desmarais said. "When youngsters have to be taken from their parents or moved from one foster home to another, that's often the only way to carry their belongings."

Desmarais said the love luggage was a community service project for her students.

After locating the hard-sided suitcases-rarely used or available these days because of tighter airline weight restrictions-students sanded, painted, decorated, then sprayed the hard-sided suitcases with a clear acrylic to seal in bright and cheery designs.

The love luggage becomes such a labor of love, Desmarais added, that students sometimes wish they could keep them for themselves.

But the students know someone will need the luggage more than they.

"I was happy, it made me feel good, really excited to be able to help kids that have less than we do," said Mabton seventh grader Janelle Venecia.

"I hope the kids will be surprised when they see the suitcases," added classmate Andy Martinez.

The luggage will indeed be well received, observed Gilbert Saenz, a social worker for Child Protective Services.

Saenz noted that children are moved into foster care for a variety of reasons, including physical abuse and drug use by parents or guardians.

"For a lot of the little kids (children going into foster care) the suitcases bring a smile to their face," Saenz said. "And that's usually a time when they could really use a smile."

He said the love luggage provided last year by Mabton students have already been distributed, noting the 25 received from Mabton on Thursday are destined for foster care children in the Lower Valley.

To provide hard-sided suitcases-and help Desmarais' students get ready for another bundle of love luggage next year-call 509-894-4951, or drop them off at Mabton Junior Senior High School.

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