MARION -- When Gatha Moore read a news story last month about state Rep. Dave Severin's "Backpacks for Buddies" program, it not only hit home, but it touched her heart.
"My best friend recently became a foster parent," said Moore, who is a graphic artist for Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group. "I never knew much about it or the needs of the children until I got to know her."
Severin, too, had no idea about the needs of foster kids, especially those in emergency placement.
"These kids have to leave their home in the middle of the night with a garbage bag for their belongings like a hobo," he said.
Severin became aware of the problem while attending a meeting of the Williamson County Republican Women last Fall.
"What I'm trying to do is raise awareness of this issue and achieve results that will make the lives of young children and adolescents placed in emergency foster care a little easier," Severin said.
Moore, a Harrisburg native, said she was touched after reading a news story about the Marion Elks' donation to the program.
"When I saw the article about Dave Severin collecting backpacks for buddies, I was like, 'I have to do this,' knowing that kids just like my friend's foster child were going to be helped."
Moore said she went to Walmart and was able to purchase backpacks for $1 each.
"I bought 10," she said with a grin.
A single parent living on a budget, Moore said she knew she couldn't fill all the bags without help.
"I emailed my co-workers and asked if anyone wanted to help out," she said. "The response was overwhelming."
Moore said the bags were filled "in no time," and even included a donation from her dentist's office.
"You people have really stepped up the game on what you included," said Severin last Friday when Moore, accompanied by Stefanie Anderson, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group, dropped off the bags at his Marion office.
Moore and her co-workers included items like snacks, crayons, feminine hygiene products, blankets, toys, school supplies, and water bottles.
Severin said the response to the program has been overwhelming, with just over 300 backpacks already donated.
The program and donations have also created an opportunity to inform people what the Department of Children and Family Services does, the need for foster parents, and just how many kids there are in need.
"There were 127 kids last year just in Williamson County," said Severin, adding that the donations from his program will be shared across the region where the need exists.
The program and Moore's donation also created an opportunity for SILMG employees.
"This kind of spurred the thought about what can we do as a company for our communities," said Anderson, "not only serve them with great journalism but with our hands."
Led by Moore, SILGM has stepped up its game, with plans to reach out and help with local charities and programs in the communities it serves with its publications.
"We plan to do one project a month," said Moore.
She will seek input from her co-workers and the efforts will be spread across southern Illinois in counties including Gallatin, Saline, Franklin, Williamson, Perry, Jackson, and Randolph.
Following the January donation, the group will be helping at Heaven's Kitchen Marion on Feb. 13, with plans already underway for projects in the other areas.
Moore will be coordinating the effort for her company.
"I'm grateful that people like Mr. Severin and his staff are able to bring things like this to the attention of our communities and are giving us the opportunities to help out," she said.
Severin said he is grateful for the donation and hopes the attention will spark even more.
"The sad thing is, it's needed," he said. "It just breaks your heart."
To donate to or get information about the "Backpacks for Buddies" program, visit RepSeverin.com/BackPacksforBuddies or call (618) 440-5090.
To suggest a worthy cause that can use some help from SILMG employees, email email@example.com. Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group operates several area publications including the Marion Republican, Harrisburg Register/Eldorado Journal, Benton News, Gallatin Democrat/Ridgway News, Carbondale Times, Murphysboro Times, Randolph County Herald-Tribune, and Du Quoin Call.