Backpacks fill children’s lives with comfort

Sally Ritter received the Premier’s Volunteer Champions Leadership Award for her commitment to the community. 178239_01. Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Brendan Rees

Sally Ritter has helped thousands of children settle into foster care – just simply by packing a few essential items into a backpack.
As the founder of Backpacks 4 Vic Kids in Cranbourne, Ms Ritter says having backpacks on hand to give to children as soon as they are displaced is “very comforting.”
“I believe that having a few belongings, something to hold, can change the way a child sees their world.”
“I want to ensure that children experiencing relocation have clean clothes, sleepwear, new undies, their own toiletries and some items to comfort them.”
For her dedication to helping the community, Ms Ritter was presented with the Premier’s Volunteer Champions Leadership Award during a ceremony at Government House on Sunday, 11 February.
The annual awards celebrated volunteers from across the state.
“It was a really humbling experience to receive an award amongst so many nominees,” she said.
“I feel truly blessed to have such an amazing team of volunteers contributing to the programs we run, without that amazing team I would not have received this award.”
Ms Ritter’s project has delivered more than 3000 backpacks, raised more than $100,000, grown a volunteer support base, and made connections with local businesses and schools.
She also regularly visits schools speaking about kindness, empathy, success and choosing to help others.
Children are often removed from dangerous places with little more than what they’re wearing at the time, Ms Ritter explained.
“Sometimes it takes days, weeks or even months for funding for that child to be made available to buy the things they desperately need.”
Ms Ritter says it’s heart-warming to hear from carers who say children have found it easier to settle in a foster home with some belongings of their own.
There are lots of ways to support Backpacks 4 Vic Kids and kids entering out of home care and emergency accommodation, Ms Ritter says.
“Each of our packs costs us about $50 to complete and deliver but saves a child or their carer about $250, so money is always appreciated.”
“We also accept preloved clothing that is in excellent condition.”
“New clothing, underwear, toiletries and stationery are great, also torches, blankies – handmade blankets are lovely, small packets of tissues and many extra love items that we include are in constant demand,” she said.
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