FAIRMONT — A $200,000 donation to United Way affiliates in West Virginia will provide more help to kids who have been exposed to traumatizing events.
Last week, the Ball Toyota Family of Dealerships donated the funds to help establish food pantries in each of West Virginia's United Way affiliate offices. The pantries will also clothing and toiletries for children and young adults in all 55 counties in partnership with an organization called Handle With Care, which is under the umbrella of the West Virginia Center for Children's Justice.
"Police are trained to identify children at the scene, find out where they go to school or daycare and send the school/agency a confidential email or fax that simply says . . . 'Handle Johnny with care,'” states the Handle With Care website.
Brett White, executive director of the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties, said the local United Way collaborated previously with Handle With Care to make the 211 resource referral program a success.
The United Way agencies will now add a new dimension to the services offered by Handle With Care by helping provide traumatized children with items such as clothing, blankets and food.
"We all collaborated for 211, so this was going to be our second project working together," White said. "Handle With Care has had a long history already, but they were always lacking this pantry piece; the resources to get things to kids."
According to Emily Swain, community impact director of the United Way, United Ways in all 55 counties will communicate with contacts in local law enforcement and the school systems to supply them with necessary materials for kids.
"If they need something after a traumatic experience or a law enforcement experience with their family or something happened the night before, then law enforcement officials let the Handle With Care coordinators know that something had happened and those children need to be handled with care," Swain said. "Where our pantries come in, and that's the big part of the United Way's piece, is that these kids might need basic necessities or hygiene items or clothes or shoes or food. The United Ways in the state will be the contacts."
Swain also said that while each United Way may begin taking special donations for the project, items given to Handle With Care will mostly come out of their respective stockpiles of items previously collected unless more special attention is needed.
"Items can come from the pantry items we have established here already," Swain said. "Or if there is a specific need, we can certainly help facilitate those needs for those children. We want to make sure they have everything they need, especially if something happened to them."
Swain said the main contribution of the United Way toward this project will be the supply of these items, because many Handle With Care county coordinators throughout the state can make contact with their county United Ways.
"You have kids who are in need of items," Swain said. "While there are a lot of good community resources, having one specific place to go to is very beneficial. That way, county coordinators can call us and we can help immediately."
White said he knows Handle With Care has been active in Marion County, and the county coordinator has provided aid to many kids in the school system who have been through traumatic events. He said he hopes to see this new project help the Handle With Care agency across the state, because in Marion County, the need for items for kids in emergency situations is already great.
"I think it's a major issue," White said. "When kids are going through traumatic situations, I think we want to be able to be there to support them for whatever they need."