Heart 2 Heart Hugs distributes clothing to needy children

Distribution ambassadors, Dawn Hall, left, and Eunice Wodard of Appoquinimink School District select donated clothes during the Heart 2 Heart Hugs at the George Massey Station in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Valentine’s Day is often reserved for romantic encounters, expensive dinners and all things Cupid-related.

For the members of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens and its many community partners, Valentine’s Day is a time to show a different kind of love.

It is the day when GACEC distributes donated items from its Heart 2 Heart Hugs campaign, which focuses on providing essentials to more than 1,000 kids and young adults in Delaware who are homeless or in foster care.

“It’s wonderful,” said Wendy Strauss, executive director of GACEC. “Every year I’m like, ‘I’m too tired to do this,’ but when you see this day happen and it comes about I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, how can we not do this?’

“It makes a world of difference. The joy that it brings to the children is so overwhelming.”

So GACEC distributed newly made coats, blankets, scarves, gloves and fleece items at George Massey Station in downtown Dover on Tuesday to enable hundreds of children to be a little bit warmer this winter.

Distribution ambassador Stacey Lowe with Community Schools and Woodward High School selects donated clothes during the Heart 2 Heart Hugs at the George Massey Station in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ambassadors from several school districts throughout the state were on hand to fill and take bags of items back to their schools whose contents they will see end up in the right hands.

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen attended the distribution event for the third year in a row and was taken back by its growth.

“Just look around the room at all of the items that are here,” Mayor Christiansen said. “Do you know what that tells me? How appropriate that we are here on Valentine’s Day.

“Delawareans, despite what a lot of people say about us, have a big heart and are very generous.”

Statistics from the Delaware Department of Education showed that in the 2014-15 school year there were 18,756 students receiving special education services.

Roughly one-third of those students were homeless or in foster care. And the numbers appear to be increasing.

The Heart 2 Heart Hugs program began seven years ago as a sleeping bag campaign. Then it morphed into sleeping bags, pajamas and books for a couple of years (pajamas and books didn’t go over quite so well, said Ms. Strauss) before evolving into its current state three years ago.

Distribution ambassador Allison Sheppard with Colonial School District selects donated clothes during the Heart 2 Heart Hugs at the George Massey Station in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Natalie Way (from William Henry) and I were talking three years ago and we decided we wanted to call it something different,” Ms. Strauss said. “That’s where we came up with Heart 2 Heart Hugs.

“Now we say we are collecting hearts and collecting hugs because all the warm things are hugging the kids that people are giving their belongings to.”

There were lots of warm things distributed Tuesday, including more than 1,000 coats, 431 blankets, 148 pairs of socks, 222 mittens, 100 sweatsuits and fleece outfits, and more.

Ambassadors also collected hygiene and dental bags for the children.

Shirley Roberts, director of Family Services for the state’s Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Familes, said being able to be tucked into a warm bed can provide a child with some of their fondest memories.

GACEC Executive Director Wendy Strauss talks with distribution ambassadors during the Heart 2 Heart Hugs at the George Massey Station in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“For kids who come to foster care it’s very difficult for them, and to have a partnership in the community like this program is amazing,” she said.

Mayor Christiansen applauded the group’s collective efforts and urged them to press on with their endeavors while solutions are still being looked at in solving the homeless problem in Delaware.

“As long as you all continue to participate and touch on the generosity of our fellow citizens here in the state of Delaware and the city of Dover, then these people who are less fortunate than we are — particularly the children who are our future — will know that they are loved and will get a hug,” he said.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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