For a child living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn during the pandemic, being left with their own thoughts at night can be a scary thing.

Kids without permanent homes are taking to bed not only the usual stress and uncertainty of daily life, but now also the anxiety and isolation of living in a pandemic without their usual support systems. “We’re seeing a peak in symptoms of anxiety and depression, and there are less outlets for our children,” Precious Dreams Foundation co-founder and executive director Nicole Russell said.

But this weekend, many of those children will be getting a special surprise to help them find peace at night amid the chaos.

Comfort bags include items like pajamas, books and journals. Photo: Precious Dreams Foundation.

On Saturday, the Precious Dreams Foundation will assemble and drop off 400 “comfort bags” to kids aged 0 to 18 who are experiencing homelessness across Brooklyn. The bags are stuffed with brand new items like pajamas, plush toys, blankets, stress balls, eye masks, books and journals to take to bed.

“We don’t give any used items, we want them to attach to something they know was bought just for them,” Russell said. “And we want them to keep the items forever as they transition from home to home or into more stable housing.”

The foundation’s mission is to provide children in foster care and shelters with bedtime comfort items and programs for kids to learn to comfort themselves. Russell said they try to empower the children — who often live in very uncertain situations, and sometimes without their parents — to be completely independent.

Precious Dreams Foundation volunteers drop off comfort bags for kids. Photo: Precious Dreams Foundation.

They teach kids to self-soothe by doing things like journaling, reading, using a fidget-spinner or stress ball, making art and practicing yoga and meditation. 

During the pandemic, the foundation’s volunteers have not been able to see the kids. But the difference they normally see in the children after going through stretching, meditation and writing prompts in shelters is huge. 

Not having access to support systems like school, counselors and social programs during the pandemic has also taken its toll on children in shelters. They face additional isolating problems like lack of technology and stable WiFi in the shelters to do remote schoolwork. 

A book by comedian Trevor Noah can be seen in one of the bags. Photo: Supplied.

“Our kids really relied on that support. Most children have a strong support system in the home and you have to imagine that a child that doesn’t have that really struggles the hardest.” 

As a result, the demand for comfort bags has shot up during quarantine.

The foundation had delivered around 1,000 comfort bags via curb-drop since the city went into quarantine. This weekend the bags, funded by a grant from the Brooklyn Community Foundation, will be assembled by a team of volunteers at God’s Battalion of Prayer Church in Brooklyn and Long Island and distributed via curb drop.

In East New York and Brownsville, deliveries will be made to Urban Transitional, Junius Family Center, Flushing Family Center, Alblemarle Family Center and the Flagstone Family Center. The kids don’t know the bags are coming.

The Precious Dreams Foundation was founded by Russell and her mom Angie Medina in New York in 2012. The pair were inspired by the experience of Russell’s sister Miracle, who saw huge relief from night terrors through using comfort items.

“It’s the first time I sat back and thought about how children cope at night if they have a nightmare and don’t have someone to run to in the next room or a shoulder to cry on when feeling afraid or lonely,” Russell said.

The foundation has since grown to encompass four more local chapters in Chicago, South Florida, Los Angeles and Baltimore, and the organization is working to expand to Houston and Washington D.C. before the end of 2020. More than 113,000 school-aged children in New York are currently homeless.

If you would like to sponsor a child with a comfort bag, head to the Precious Dreams website.

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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