Michele Jones, co-owner of Pasture Restaurant in Richmond and Charlottesville, knows a thing or two about moving households. Michele moved frequently as a child, and at one point had a fear of growing up in the foster care system. Michele found solace in her suitcase, and always kept it packed with her most treasured belongings.
Years later as an adult, when Michele learned that some children in foster care were toting their most prized possessions in trash bags, Michele felt empowered to change that. She felt strongly that children in foster care deserved more and that they should be able to carry their personal effects from home to home with dignity. And carrying their stuff in trash bags is, well, anything but dignified. Michele also wonders how her own self-concept would have been different as a child, if she had used a trash bag to carry her things instead of a suitcase.
Michele shares that she does not have any children of her own, but she feels like children in foster care are everyone’s children and she is compelled to help them. Michele founded Case for Hope, which works with the community and partners to provide children in the Richmond City foster system with their very own suitcase.
Together with her business partners of Pasture restaurant, Jason Alley and W. Reilly Marchant, Michele united the Richmond restaurant community to come together and donate luggage for the children of Richmond City foster care – and the suitcases arrived by the carload. Members of the Richmond foodie community from Kitchen Thyme, Toast, Strangeways Brewing, Estilo and Dash restaurants all worked together to make it happen. She says, “People have been so nice and so excited about this. It has exceeded what I thought I would be able to accomplish in 6 months. This has really shown me the best in people and how people can really get excited about contributing in this way.”
A few weeks ago, Michele was surprised to receive a phone call from ABC news. A few days later, Case for Hope was featured on ABC News with Dianne Sawyer for their America Strong feature. As you can imagine, Michele has been very busy since the show aired, with luggage coming in from all over the country. Michele says, “My goal is to accomplish as much as one person can do, with the help of lots of other people. It’s about working together as a community.”
Michele’s initial goal was to provide the 288 children in Richmond City foster care with suitcases. After only 6 months, she has exceeded that goal. “New kids are constantly coming into the system, so please keep the cases coming”, says Michele. Recently, she also began collecting backpacks, small tote bags and new or like-new coats as well.
And with the national coverage, people throughout the country want to know – how can they develop a program like this in their own community? Michele’s renewed goal is to have suitcase drives around the Virginia to help children in many of Virginia’s cities and counties. Michele has collaborated with Faces of Virginia Families to cast the net for getting suitcases in the hands of more children in foster care a little wider. She is also forging other community partnerships to provide guidance on towns building their own program, using Michele as a resource for how to get started. Michele explains, “Everybody loves to help, but people don’t know where to begin. When people see an example like this, then people say, `Wow I could do something like this, too.’ I will be a cheerleader for them.”
Michele, we think you already are a cheerleader.
Want to help?
- Please consider dropping off a new or like-new suitcase at Pasture restaurant
- Please consider donating a suitcase on the “Case for Hope” webpage through Amazon
- Please consider dropping off a new or like-new coat at Pasture restaurant, now through October 31.
- Be on the lookout for upcoming suitcase drives for Case for Hope from the restaurant community – Richmondmom will keep you posted!