Social Services Worker Dreams Up 'Adventure Bags' for Foster Children

Tracey McMahon and her family help ensure foster kids have the essentials they need for traumatic moves.

(Originally published on Dec. 20, 2011)

Editor's Note: Tracey McMahon was selected as the The Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day for Jan. 11, 2012.  The feature recognizes citizens across the nation for their extraordinary efforts to make a difference in their communities. Congratulations, Tracey!

For 10 years Tracey McMahon has worked for the Georgia Division of Family and Children's Services serving Oconee, Morgan, Greene and Jasper counties. She's had the unfortunate task of removing kids from their homes, sometimes in the middle of the night, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

But it wasn't until a trip mid-last year to pick up three children -- two girls and a boy, ages 3 to 13 -- from LAX Airport and transport them back to Georgia that she realized the impact leaving home had on kids in the foster care system.

"They had almost nothing," she said.  "Nothing but a couple of things in black trash bags."

McMahon, a Barrow County resident, and her co-workers purchased book bags at the airport and stocked them with some essentials -- sweat suits, toothbrushes and hairbrushes. The bags turned into lifelines when what was supposed to be a quick flight home turned into a couple of days because of some complications.

A light bulb went off

That's when McMahon says knew she wanted to make similar "Adventure Bags" available to all kids entering foster care.

Foster parents are going to take care of the children once they arrive, but the children still need basic items to get them through the transition period, she explained.

"Kids don't want to have to ask a stranger for a toothbrush," she said.

She pitched Adventure Bags to her husband, Eric, and her mother, Debbie Gori, and they were eager to help. Though McMahon works for DFCS, Adventure Bags is not affiliated with the department.

The first bag stuffing took place last October at McMahon's church in Lawrenceville. Volunteers were able to fill 141 bags-- far surpassing the goal of 100 -- and all bags have since been distributed to DFCS offices in Oconee, Gwinnett, Barrow, Morgan, Jasper and Greene counties.  

In December, another church group donated a batch of bags that will be distributed in Lumpkin County, she said.

"It's amazing how it's spreading!" McMahon exclaimed, adding that she hopes Adventure Bags will grow to serve all Georgia counties in the future.

The ultimate goal is for each child to have a bag of their own that can serve the dual purpose of an overnight bag and a book bag for school, she said.

She hopes the bags will, at the very least, improve children's sense of security.

What's in the bag?

The following items are included in Adventure Bags, which are filled for toddlers, ages 5-9, tweens and teens:

  • Stuffed Animal/Small Toy
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Deodorant
  • Brush/Comb
  • Toothpaste/Toothbrush
  • Washcloths or Puffs
  • Soap or Body Wash
  • Socks
  • Underwear/Boxers
  • Pens/Pencils/Crayons
  • Journals/Coloring or Activity Books
  • Tag with Identifying Information and a Calendar

Sanitary napkins are also needed for teenage girls. Socks and underwear are stored in bins at each DFCS office and added to bags to fit the size and gender of the recipient.

Each office can submit monthly requests for additional items to restock their supply.

On the "wish list of wish lists," McMahon hopes to include donated gift cards in the amount of $10-$25 for each child to purchase an outfit or additional supplies.

How to help

Adventure Bags relies on individuals and businesses for donations. For more information, contact Debbie Gori at 678-425-0552 or Tracey McMahon at 404-787-6318. Emails may be sent to donations@adventurebags.org.

An Auburn church will host a bag stuffing later this month.  The date has not been set, but check the "Adventure Bags" website for more. Also keep up with "Adventure Bags" on Facebook.

Sponsorships are also needed for a 5K race, scheduled for April 15, but the location has yet to be determined.

"You hear, 'It takes a village to raise a child,'" McMahon said. "Well, it takes a village to keep 'Adventure Bags' filled."

Kennesaw Taylor January 04, 2012 at 07:57 PM
This is an amazing story about amazingly normal, everyday heroes. Thanks for what you do.
Vicky Laker January 05, 2012 at 05:45 PM
wow, I can't believe this self made important busy body thinks she has really made an invention with our children's blood in her hands. There is no need for this stupid bag if our kids are not not snatched by the Government in the first place is there? May the Almighty Alah reward you for abusing our innocent angels, lol
Kennesaw Taylor January 05, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Five children are beaten to death in America everyday by the people they know love and trust the most, namely their own parents. The average age of those children is three years old. Sometimes a social worker might make a mistake and take a child that shouldn't have been taken, they'll learn to live with that. The times they leave one who dies at the hands of an ignorant control freak, they will never forget. When you know the names of one days worth of dead children, then you might have the right to make such a statement, until then crawl back under your rock and act like there are not 9 million cases of abuse, a year, in this, the greatest country on the earth. Sleep well in your overabundance of unbelievable ignorance.
Cynthia Montgomery January 06, 2012 at 02:34 AM
WOW VICKI! Sounds like maybe you have been on the receiving end of DEFACS. As they say, "No good deed goes unpunished" and Adventure Bags is a perfect example of this saying. While it is best for children to be with their parents, there are times when removing children from their home is a good solution to an issue the family is dealing with. DEFACS goal it always to reunite the family once issues have been settled. It is hard for the parents that loose their children and it is hard for the children to be taken from their home. Having known people on both sides of this equation, I can see where it hurts all involved but if the family works through their issues and try to get back together most of the time the children's lives have seen some improvement. Drugs, abuse, dirty homes, child neglect, sexual abuse, and death of siblings, are just some of the things that will have DEFACS take a child from a home. I appreciate that this lady has started Adventure Bags for these children that are plucked from their parents and need some structure in their lives while their parents get their acts together. I hope that your family never needs the Adventure Bags and if they don't, maybe you could help those families that are in need.
Merna January 13, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Wonderful idea! I wish all governments would provide this so that every foster child would receive comfort in the form of an Adventure Bag.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something