So Much More Than a Backpack: Holiday Giving and Day 1 Bags

 By Allie Long

Picture this: You’re a kid. Both a little shy and a little brazen, and also a whole lot uncertain. You’re on your way to meet your new foster family, which heightens all of those traits. And on top of moving around more times than you can count, the only thing you have been given to carry the few items that you own is a trash bag.

Yes. A trash bag.

Up until recently, for many foster kids in Texas, this wasn’t a hypothetical. “I was five, when my [foster brother] Halen came into my home at just a few months old. Then one-year-old Hudson came to us when I was eight, and Holly came to us as a newborn when I was 12,” says UT Freshman Hunter Beaton.  “Holly came with a car seat, Hudson came with a trash bag and Cheeto puffs, and Halen came with only a trash bag.”

Hunter with his siblings, all wearing Day 1 Bags Backpacks. Image courtesy of the Day 1 Bags Facebook page.
Hunter with his siblings, all wearing Day 1 Bags Backpacks. Image courtesy of the Day 1 Bags Facebook page.
The Birth of Day 1 Bags

When Hunter was 16, he utilized these memories to come up with his Eagle Scout project in order to address this quiet need for other foster youth in the Boerne, TX area. Within the span of several months, he raised over $10,000 to fill 100 “Day 1” bags with helpful items to be given to foster children when they were first placed in homes, such as toothbrushes, clothing, diapers, H-E-B gift cards, and toys.

“We donated the bags to Child Placement agencies in April 2015. In June or July, I received a bunch of emails about how my 100 bags dwindled down to about 10-15 bags in just one and a half months,” recalls Hunter. “It made me think, that’s not going to last long. Maybe this is something I should continue to do.”

After connecting with the Texas Council of Child County Welfare Boards to work through the logistics of creating a sustainable project, Hunter partnered with the non-profit One Simple Wish and military-grade manufacturer Flying Circle Gear to create Day 1 Bags.

A Growing Need

By June 2016, Day 1 Bags was officially off the ground. Less than a year later, in February 2017, it had become a statewide movement. Today, Day 1 Bags has provided over 29,000 bags to 14 U.S. states.

After conducting research and interviews with child placement agencies, Day 1 Bags began to focus on providing empty bags, as most agencies have to take everything out in order to customize them for a child’s age, gender, and preferences. This also enables bag owners to use their packs for a variety of purposes—be it for school, moving, or aging out of the system. And when just two percent of Texas foster alumni go on to attend university, something as simple as a bag can have the power to carry so much more than just books or clothes.

Hunter holding a new backpack that will be distributed to a foster youth.
Hunter holding a new backpack that will be distributed to a foster youth in one of the 14 states that Day 1 Bags now serves. Image courtesy of the Day 1 Bags Facebook page.
Carrying Self-Confidence

The bags are always plain black backpacks or duffel bags. They look like something any other kid could have, which is the whole point. “We’re trying to provide a sense of dignity and belonging that doesn’t call attention to foster kids. We just want them to feel normal, because they are,” says Hunter.

As we discovered in the first year of the Texas Youth Permanency Study, normalcy is at the core of creating stability. Inviting normalcy into daily life in both big and small ways helps foster youth create lasting relationships, and is essential for achieving wellbeing through safety, education, health, life skills, and vocation for youth.

“A couple months ago, I was watching the news and a story came up about a foster youth who was trying to raise awareness of how other foster youth could get into universities,” says Hunter. “I saw that the foster youth being featured had one of my bags. I’d never met him. I’m always wondering, is what I’m doing useful? Seeing that just gave me a huge boost.”

Expansion to Austin

When Hunter graduated from high school and moved to Austin to attend UT in 2019, Day 1 Bags evolved into the higher education sphere. As of this year, our Institute’s Spark program is proud to partner with Day 1 Bags.

Through his non-profit, Hunter was also able to fund a free Thanksgiving meal for 80 current and former foster youth youth living in the Austin area through change1.org youth services. “On Thanksgiving, many youth do not have a family to spend time with or a meal to celebrate over. I don’t think that’s acceptable, so I wanted to see what I could do to change that,” says Hunter.

On top of adjusting to life at UT Austin and running Day 1 Bags, Hunter also works at Austin Threads, a 501(c)3 non-profit providing clothes and sundries to youth ages 12-21 in foster care, aged out of care, homeless or otherwise referred. Austin Threads is an expansion project from the original San Antonio Threads, and it opened its doors to the Austin community on December 3rd, 2019.

Hunter Beaton with his Day 1 Duffel Bags
Hunter with his Day 1 Duffel Bags. Image courtesy of the Day 1 Bags Facebook page.

These days, Hunter remains both humbled by and optimistic for the future of Day 1 Bags. So much has changed, and yet there’s still so much more work to be done.

His thoughts?

“I’m just a regular teenager. I’m very blessed because I have a stable family and a good upbringing. When people hear my story, they think, ‘how amazing is this kid?!’ It’s not what I’ve been given so much as determination and motivation to make a change. I understand how difficult change can be,” says Hunter. “I always want people to know that if you have an idea to make a change, run with it. Start there. My Eagle Scout project started this initiative, and I could have easily stopped. Everyone has the power to make a difference.”

To donate to Day 1 Bags this holiday season, please visit https://www.onesimplewish.org/giveday1bags.