Twelve years ago, a father and his child saw a discarded book bag near a gas station Dumpster here in Charleston County. They also noticed the book bag was moving. Maybe a kitten was trapped inside?
No, inside that bag was a newborn baby girl. The infant was quickly dubbed “the book bag baby,” but she was much, much more than that.
That story and that moment awakened something in Lynn Young that still drives her today.
She’s the unpaid director of Lowcountry Orphan Relief, which is the first responder when a child is abused or removed from a home or school in the tri-county area. Its job is to provide basic needs for that child.
This time of year, the supply does not equal the demand. She and her group have been wrapping presents for many area children. But those gifts won’t be new trucks or balls or bikes. It’s far more basic than that, but extremely important.
When the wrapping and bows are removed from these gifts, abused and neglected children will instead receive coats, sweaters, socks and heavy pajamas. Again, not the warm and fuzzy moments likely to be found on the Hallmark Channel, but items many of these children just don’t own ... and desperately need.
What child is this?
South Carolina is fifth in the nation in child abuse. This is a time of year where we often zero in on what a child wants versus what a child needs.
At Lowcountry Orphan Relief, their gifts try to accomplish both desires. The self-esteem that accompanies new clothes and shoes is a huge building block in putting that child back together again.
The agency has been open for 10 years. It receives no state or federal money, but the area’s mayors have been supportive. The effort is headquartered in an old duplex that once was Navy housing in North Charleston at the now-defunct Navy Yard.
Young says the problem is everywhere, whether poor or privileged. While choking back tears, she cites a story of a father who kept his son in a cage and told him if he said anything, he’d hurt his sister.
She remembers a schoolteacher who sent a misbehaving boy to the principal’s office, where it was discovered the youngster couldn’t sit still because of belt buckle marks on the back of his little legs.
The cries of a sister in a courtroom hallway after being told she would be separated from her siblings are still very real.
Those memories keep her on message because each of these circumstances happened here in our own backyard. Young also is reminded of her mother’s advice that “the highest level of living is giving.”
Help, hope and heal
Removing the chaos, the violence and the abuse is the goal when helping these children. More than 17,000 have received such aid in the past six years.
There’s nothing wrong with dropping a toy into a bin for a needy child, but if you really want to do something that lasts longer than the batteries, allow that neglected child a chance to look and feel like the rest of the kids, at least on the outside.
Until Christmas Eve, Lowcountry Orphan Relief is accepting new or barely used shoes, coats, sweaters, pajamas and heavier socks that will provide warmth and a sense that they “belong.”
Twelve years ago, somebody cared enough to discover a little girl who was found in a book bag. That unwanted baby eventually was wrapped in love, adopted and soon will be a teenager who still lives in the area.
There’s no expiration date for a community that’s willing to help one another. And this time of year, we should especially be sensitive to children who have no home, no hope or help.
As a matter of fact, whether a baby’s in a manger or a book bag, Bethlehem’s not that far away.
Reach Warren Peper at firstname.lastname@example.org.