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Donate suitcases through Emory’s Urban Health Initiative to help people experiencing homelessness
Carolyn Aidman with suitcase

Since its inception in 2014, the Rolling Suitcase Drive through Emory’s Urban Health Initiative has gathered more than 800 lightly used and new suitcases and rolling backpacks for the Atlanta Mission.

In 2012, Carolyn Aidman, associate director of Emory University‘s Urban Health Initiative (UHI), visited what was then the day shelter of the Atlanta Mission, one of Atlanta’s largest centers providing care for homeless people.

“What's in your bag?” she asked a family that day.

They replied, “My birth certificate, my driver’s license, my mother’s wedding picture, my only decent pair of shoes.” The children showed her their games, stuffed animals and precious photos.

Since 1938, thousands of newly homeless women and children have utilized the Atlanta Mission day shelter, often escaping domestic violence. When Aidman visited, the day shelter was independent and stood four miles away from the night shelter, which housed approximately 1,000 individuals nightly. Families often walked the distance between the two shelters, carrying their possessions in plastic bags.

When Aidman learned this, she thought of the wheeled suitcases she had recently purchased. She asked if she could donate them to the Atlanta Mission.

Their response? Suitcases were their most needed donation item because so many individuals traveled between the two shelters each day.

From a simple question to a concerted effort

Aidman realized a larger, more collaborative suitcase donation effort could positively impact hundreds of families. Having the support of a well-established organization such as UHI could help bring the project to fruition.

According to its mission statement, UHI is a community-centered organization dedicated to investing in partnerships with low-resource communities in Atlanta. UHI’s initiatives develop sensitive, holistic models for long-term wellness and equity while building meaningful relationships between community members. With its aligning mission, the Rolling Suitcase Drive flourished under the UHI’s extensive metropolitan network and mobilized the UHI community in its efforts to provide a more secure method for individuals to transport their possessions.

Since its inception in 2014, the Rolling Suitcase Drive has gathered more than 800 lightly used and new suitcases and rolling backpacks for the Atlanta Mission. Donations have come from members of the Emory community, local businesses and church congregations, among others.

“I feel incredibly confident we are doing the best work we could do,” says Rachel Reynolds, Atlanta Mission’s communications manager. “There is no other city in the United States that links the work of medical professionals, community members and homeless populations to revolutionize the concept of housing security.”

“One person can make such a difference, [just] one person noticing that little need,” Ethel Ware Carter, director of the Regional Council of Churches, says of the Rolling Suitcase Drive.

Anyone can donate to the Rolling Suitcase Drive and the Atlanta Mission; all it takes is a willingness to help. Given the traditionally higher rates of domestic violence during the winter season and subsequently harsher weather conditions, there is an even greater need for suitcases during the wintertime.

Donating can have profound impacts not just on the recipients, but on those who give. One of Aidman’s most well-known stories with the Rolling Suitcase Drive demonstrates how such an experience can be moving as a donator.

“One day, I delivered this beautiful red, hard-side bag to the shelter,” Aidman says. “That afternoon when I came back, I saw a family walking down the street. The mom had three kids, one she was carrying on her chest. The others were sitting on each side of [that same red] suitcase, and they were going down the street singing.”

The Atlanta-based Rolling Suitcase Drive exemplifies how one individual’s efforts can mobilize a community to collectively combat systemic inequities.

In Aidman’s case, one suitcase made all the difference.

Rolling suitcases can help individuals served by the Atlanta Mission transport their belongings more securely. Donations of new or gently used rolling suitcases and rolling backpacks are accepted at:

  • Emory University (1599 Clifton Road, Atlanta): 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, and Monday, Feb. 13
  • Emory Faculty Building at Grady Memorial Hospital (49 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive, Atlanta): 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, and Monday, Feb. 13; drop off at the front door or leave donations with Emory University security personnel
  • The Atlanta Mission (2353 Bolton Road, NW, Atlanta): Open 24 hours; drop off at the front door

Please ensure all donated suitcases have wheels and are in good condition. For more information, contact Madison Li, Will Newman or Ella Kaufman.

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