The state Children, Youth and Families Department will distribute the hard pieces of luggage to children in the foster care system. Soft luggage such as backpacks will be kept in each state vehicle used to transport the children. Organizers hope the donation will help provide a sense of stability to the children as they navigate their way through the system.
"A lot of times, you're getting picked up at 7 p.m.," said Melissa Meechan, member of San Juan Rotary and former foster child. "You don't have a lot of things. (The luggage), it's a belonging too. Foster kids will cling to their belongings until the end of time."
Meechan moved 14 times over 7 years. One of her few possessions during this uncertain time was the piece of luggage she would pack her belonging in.
She donated this piece of luggage to the program.
"I've always wanted to give back," she said. "I hope someone cherishes it."
The ballroom at the Red Lion Hotel was packed with members of San Juan Rotary, Farmington Rotary and Tres Rios Rotary as Governor Martinez made her appearance Thursday at noon.
She asked the crowd to imagine themselves as a foster child being taken from their home in the middle of the night.
"They usually pack a few pieces of clothing into a garbage bag," she said. "There's no dignity for that child.
There are about 100 foster children in San Juan County. Of these, about 40 are age six and older. Seven are age 15 or older. These older children are less likely to find stable homes, Martinez said.
She praised the efforts of foster parents throughout the state, and touched on the growing need for adoptive parents.
"You're given an opportunity for a limited time to make an impression on a child's life," she said. "I want you to consider becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent."
The governor thanked San Juan Rotary President Barbara Tedrow for organizing the donation drive.
"I've seen what abuse does to these children, and it's everlasting," Martinez said. "I'm extremely grateful that Barbara heard one story and ran with it."
Tedrow encouraged community members to help in any way they can.
"Everybody just needs to open their hearts," she said. "It doesn't just need to be a service organization."
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will hold a community meeting on Oct. 18 at 5:30 p.m. at 2800 Farmington Ave. Caseworkers and current foster parents will give a presentation on the foster care system. The meeting is free and open to the public. All interested are encouraged to attend. Attendance does not entail committing to becoming a foster parent.
For more information on the department, visit www.cyfd.org.