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Backpacks stuffed with love

Rob Scheer, founder and CEO of Comfort Cases (Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

While many are raised in a home with loving parents, life has been less fortunate for others. Sometimes people don’t assume their responsibility as parents, other times they don’t have the resources to be parents, which is why foster care exists in the United States, to provide a home for children who haven’t had the opportunity to have one.

However, not everyone in foster care has a positive experience. Sometimes kids in foster care don’t even have their own belongings, which is why MMM Holdings LLC and the nonprofit organization Comfort Cases has created an alliance to provide “love bundles” to children and youth in the foster care system in Puerto Rico.

During last Friday’s event, a large group of volunteers packed part of the 500 backpacks, which are known as “mochilas” on the island, with essential items including blankets and pajamas, and gifts, to show children in foster homes that they are loved and valued, and at the same time give them quality backpacks to carry their belongings in.

MMM Multiclínica de San Juan became the meeting point for the celebration of a very special “packaging party.” The backpacks even contain books that were purchased from a local book vendor to support the local economy.

“We learned of the noble mission that Comfort Cases carries out in the United States and around the world through our parent company, Elevance Health,” said Orlando González, president of MMM Puerto Rico and head of the Medicare Eastern Region for Elevance Healthcare. “Right away, we made a commitment to bring a little joy to our Puerto Rican children in the foster care system; which fills us with great satisfaction.”

“I was a 12-year-old boy and all they gave me was a garbage bag and 20 minutes to collect my things before I went to the foster home … until I turned 18,when those same people I was calling mom and dad, they gave me another bag of trash with my belongings and told me, ‘You have to go because we don’t get a check anymore,’” recalled Rob Scheer, founder and CEO of Comfort Cases and an adoptive father of five children who, at the time, had come to his house with garbage bags, the same as he once did.

The children of Casa Cuna de San Juan, Casa de Niños Manuel Fernández and other entities will receive “bundles of love” prepared by volunteers from Fundacción MMM and the Comfort Cases team.

During the event, Scheer told his life story as a person who went through foster care. His story was a mix of data and personal experiences, and as he told it, he shared data about what’s happening in the United States currently with foster care. Only 54% of children in foster care will actually graduate from high school, only 11% fill out a college application and only 3% get a college degree.

After years of suffering through abusive parents and living on the streets, Scheer eventually joined the Navy and later became a successful businessman. Over the years, however, he decided to give up his luxurious life to help children who went through the same experience or a similar one, which is where Comfort Cases comes in. Currently the nonprofit is not only in Puerto Rico and the mainland United States but in the UK, and plans to become established in Toronto.

Scheer told the STAR that “there is a ton of work to be done” to resurrect the foster care system in the United States.

“Our foster care system is completely shattered,” he said. “We have to realize that when something is broken we can take some super glue and put it back together, but when something is shattered it must be rebuilt.”

“Our system is so unbelievably beyond repair. We have over 438,000 children sitting in our foster care [system],” Scheer noted. “The sad part is that 30,000 of these children will age out this year and when they do, they’ll become homeless just like me. We have to do better and we can do better. It is an industry that makes money off the backs of children and that has to stop and stop today.”

González, the MMM president, said regarding the partnership with Comfort Cases told the STAR that “MMM has a huge commitment to the community of Puerto Rico.”

“We don’t just serve the elderly, as some people think, we also serve all ages of people and offer services to all of them; this is an example of the efforts we are making to [help] our child and youth population,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to help people in Puerto Rico, not just in the health aspect directly, but also on the social front.”

MMM will continue working in collaboration with Comfort Cases moving forward, González added.

Jessica Hubble of Elevance Health noted that “they’ve brought Comfort Cases already to 18 states of the U.S. and now Puerto Rico.”

“Working with them, [we] have delivered over 7,000 cases all around the U.S.,” she said.

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