By PENNY FLETCHER
It’s bad enough to be packed up in the middle of the night and taken away from home – often in a police car — with nothing but the clothes on your back, but that happens to children a lot more than most people realize.
When the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office gets a report of abuse or neglect, or perhaps deputies find children at a crime scene, or left alone unsupervised in a house or outdoors, the children are often taken to temporary shelters while it is decided whether the parents will lose custody.
One such shelter is A Kid’s Place in Brandon.
According to Mary Berg, resource coordinator at A Kid’s Place, many children arrive with a garbage bag containing a few belongings.
“One of our goals is never to let them leave like that,” Berg said in an interview March 14. “We want to give every one of them something more if we can.”
The average shelter stay is 90 days, but some children are kept up to two years, she said. “Mainly, this happens when we cannot find a family member or foster family that can keep siblings together.”
Keeping as much of the family as intact as possible is always a goal, she said.
A Kid’s Place was one of the pet projects of the late county commissioner Dottie Berger MacKinnon, who was a tireless advocate for abused and neglected children. She founded A Kid’s Place five years ago, and also founded Friends of Joshua House Foundation and worked with the Children’s Home Society, the Guardian ad Litem program, and countless others.
“I was originally a volunteer here,” said Berg, who also serves now as community liaison, visiting groups and speaking about A Kid’s Place. “We have very little need for on-site volunteers,” she said, “because the kids are in programs and school most of the time. But we always need supplies.”
As Berg recalls, members of the Sun City Center Sew ’n Sews contacted her several years ago and asked if there was anything they could do to help.
“At the time, I said 60 quilts would be wonderful. We also needed baby bibs.”
A Kid’s Place is a 60-bed facility with five homes of 12 beds and a house parent in each. The children are housed by age, from infancy to 18 years old.
Since their first load of quilts, the Sew ’n Sews have provided not only quilts and clothing but also toiletries, suitcases and other items they have collected in the Sewing Room of the main Sun City Center complex on Cherry Hills Drive.
One group of quilters among the Sew ’n Sews has adopted A Kid’s’ Place as their project.
Publicity chairwoman Mary Lou Bogdan and Jan Ring, referred to jokingly as “the sweat shop goddess,” say they will address others who want to know more about A Kid’s Place and its needs.
Quilter’s liaison Pam Davis and volunteer Dee Kelly periodically take the things made and collected to Brandon and meet with Berg.
Bed quilts, bedspreads and pajama bottoms that can be made with T-shirts are also now being made.
“We could sure use someone who has a long-arm quilter to help us,” said Ring.
She said she hopes a long-arm quilting machine can either be donated or loaned for use if the owner can’t do the work.
Davis said, “My sister up in Michigan makes clothes and sends them to me, too.”
The group presently is also concentrating on making 60 bedspreads. “Bedspreads make the room look more like home,” Berg said.
Donations of fabric, batting and other sewing and quilting materials are always welcome, and a box is kept in the Sewing Room to collect other donated items. Any stuffed animals must be new and have a tag to prove it, for health reasons.
The group concentrating on A Kid’s Place’s current needs meets Wednesday mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m. in the Sewing Room.
More information about A Kid’s Place may be found at www.akidsplacetb.org or calling 813-381-3839.