Today, it’s hard to believe one person has the power to make a difference in the world. But when you meet Anupa Wijaya, founder and executive director of The Bag Project, you see how an individual’s commitment can make the impact of many. Together with a team of volunteers, partners, and sponsors, she’s provided more than 3,000 emergency bags to infants, children, and teens in crisis, and nearly 2,000 activity bags to kids in various stages of life transition.
Wijaya spent her early career helping vulnerable populations in New York City and Chicago, and after a hiatus to raise her family in Princeton, she was eager to continue her mission at the local level. She reached out to area nonprofits to learn about new opportunities—and those inquiries led her to some startling information: In 2015, in New Jersey, nearly 49,000 children were under state supervision for reports of abuse or neglect; 7,000 of them were removed from the home as a result of safety concerns; and approximately 10,000 spent at least one night in a domestic violence or homeless shelter.
Though she’d worked at nonprofits in the past, she’d never started one on her own and it was daunting. “I learned about a universal, unmet need that children in crisis in New Jersey face on a daily basis. They come into the foster system with nothing, or only a few items in a trash bag,” Wijaya says. “There were many times I thought I was going to fail, but my fundamental motivation was to help the children I kept hearing about.” Even with several other incredible local organizations assisting the area’s most vulnerable children, Wijaya wanted to pitch in, too, and help in a tangible way: by providing emergency duffel bags filled with age-appropriate toiletries and comfort items. The high-quality duffels include everything from shampoo and conditioner to toothbrushes and toothpaste to socks and stuffed animals to blankets and books.
Today, The Bag Project has more than 35 partner organizations across the state, and Wijaya works to increase that number every month. It’s a recipient organization for Bombas socks donations, blankets through the national Project Linus, and grants and in-kind donations from Arm & Hammer. Of course, individual monetary contributions have the greatest impact, as onehundred percent of donations go to covering the cost of the bags, the products, and the warehouse space required to store and organize it all. The Bag Project encourages community members to involve their families and friends by hosting drives for needed items, and also works with local schools and companies to establish events throughout the year.
To learn more, visit thebagproject.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.