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Keeping Up with the Dundees: Suitcases of Smiles, Part One

The Dundees are at it again. What is “it,” you may ask? Making a difference, that is! If you haven’t been following along with Keeping Up with the Dundees, sophomore Gracie and alumna Lauren have been a part of the Laurel Springs family for some time but have been making a positive impact and inspiring others to do the same through their 501(c)3 nonprofit, Small Acts Big Change, for even longer. Last month, they contributed to a greener world by saving and planting trees through “Find Your Forest.” Thanks to their perseverance and team of dedicated volunteers, they were able to plant 81 small trees and seedlings in national forests. 

This month, Small Acts Big Change kicked off its third year of “Suitcases of Smiles” to help people who do not have essential or comfort items. This two-month campaign focuses on giving those in need basic necessities like pajamas, toiletries, and school supplies. September is all about helping students and children in foster care, an effort inspired by Lauren’s experience volunteering in a pediatric unit.

Volunteering at a New Volume

In 2018, Lauren was volunteering at a local hospital that partnered with Shriners Hospitals for Children® – Los Angeles to provide specialized care for children with severe burns, orthopedic conditions, and cleft lips and palates from all over the world. She noticed that these children were arriving in the United States with nearly nothing and took action to change this. Ultimately, Huntington Hospital approved Lauren’s program, “Suitcases of Smiles,” which has grown into something more impactful than she imagined. “For the last three years, we’ve been providing smiles, suitcases, and backpacks to children in need. What started off as a way to help children in the hospital has grown to include children entering foster care and students who are underprivileged.”

Since its inception, this campaign has provided 93 “suitcases,” including backpacks and duffel bags full of clothing, toiletries, books, notebooks, coloring books, crayons, and more. Small Acts Big Change has partnered with other local nonprofits to help supply children with the suitcases. “We work with our local food bank and a partner nonprofit, Foothill Unity Center, to give our school-supply backpacks to students in need. The suitcases for patients are delivered to Ronald McDonald House and a local pediatric hospital. Our partner who connected us to local foster care children is going through a reorganization, so we are finding a new partner for any suitcases for foster children for this year,” explains Gracie. However, the pandemic has created a unique barrier to distributing the suitcases and supplies, but the Dundees have gotten creative to see their campaign through.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

While COVID-19 has been causing shutdowns across the world, the Dundees understand that the problems people are facing have not ceased. Accepting donations has been a challenge, but they have been able to work within these boundaries to still make a boundless difference.  When they receive donations, they quarantine the items for five days and then disinfect them while wearing gloves and masks. “All donated items must be new and in original packaging. No one else besides us goes near the items until they are passed to our partner nonprofits for distribution,” Lauren describes. They are also leaving all of the items in their original packaging for each child to open.

Laurel Springs students and families can still help out, too. “It would be terrific if LSS students would like to create cards, letters, and drawings to brighten the days of kids who are struggling. The cards can be get-well themed, a happy and colorful drawing to hang, or a letter of cheer and support,” Gracie shares. Cards and donation items can be sent to Suitcases of Smiles, Small Acts Big Change, P.O. Box 1374, La Canada, CA 91012. A receipt for a U.S. tax deductible claim will be sent for all donations, and a thank you letter will be sent to anyone who helps.

There’s a Part Two?

With fall setting in, the Dundees are not done spreading smiles and supplies to those in need. Next month, “Suitcases of Smiles” continues with a different but equally as important focus. Then, when the temperatures drop further in November, warm hearts, hands, and paws will take center stage. Stay tuned!

Looking for more stories about the Dundees? Check out our other posts!

Keeping Up with the Dundees: Sharing Stars of Hope

Keeping Up with the Dundees: Saving Them All

Keeping Up with the Dundees: Find Your Forest