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Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star

Imagine young children being told to say goodbye to Mom and Dad for a while so they can go live with strangers in an unfamiliar neighborhood and attend a school where they don't know anyone.

On top of that, imagine the little ones not having a suitcase and being forced to stuff their favorite toys and clothes into whatever's handy - grocery sacks, garbage bags, boxes.

It used to happen, all the time.

But not anymore, thanks to dozens of volunteers who take part in Aviva's Bags for Kids program.

Aviva Children's Services is a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services to children who have been removed from their homes by Arizona's Child Protective Services because of abuse or neglect.

For the past 15 years, volunteers have been gathering on one specific day to sew duffel bags using materials that have been donated throughout the year by individuals, quilting groups, sewing groups and businesses.

Last Saturday, 180 volunteers gathered at Pima Community College's West Campus and created 2,189 duffel bags, surpassing last year's mark of 2,100.

"It was eight hours of hard work by all of our volunteers," Monica Durand, an Aviva spokeswoman, said.

The duffel bags were desperately needed.

CPS took a record number of children out of their homes last year, and Aviva gave out nearly 6,000 duffel bags, Durand said. They almost ran out of supplies.

Currently, 3,000 children are in CPS' care in Pima County.

The sew-a-thon takes a great deal of coordination, Durand said. Aviva provides about a dozen sewing machines for the event, and volunteers also bring their own machines.

Some volunteers sew; others insert drawstrings in a process resembling an assembly line.

"The duffel bags are a way for the children to move their belongings with dignity," said project coordinator Cindy Lingel. "Using garbage bags didn't send a good message to the kids."

Now-retired CPS caseworker Carol Punske came up with the duffel-bag idea after watching a young boy's garbage bag split, scattering his belongings - including a picture of his mother - all over the ground, Lingel said.

The sew-a-thon is a beloved event because it gives people with shared interests - kids and sewing - an opportunity to spend the day together and socialize, Lingel said.

This year the youngest volunteer was 14, and the oldest was 92, Lingel said.

Lingel and Durand said Aviva always welcomes donations, whether it's gently used children's clothing, toys and furniture, quilts or materials for the duffel bags - age-appropriate prints and cording material.

"The duffel bags are a way for the children to move their belongings with dignity. Using garbage bags didn't send a good message to the kids."

Cindy Lingel,

project coordinator


Aviva Children's Services is at 153 S. Plumer Ave.

For information, call 327-6464 or go online to

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or