Georgia Cancer Specialists (GCS) — the largest private medical oncology/hematology practice in the Southeast — collected 5,159 bags during the seventh annual “Totes for Tots” suitcase drive for foster children.

GCS volunteers braved the cold at 25 offices across Georgia — including four in Central Georgia — on Friday, Jan. 16 to set yet another collection record.

“Totes for Tots” delivers new or nearly new back packs and kid-sized suitcases to foster children in Georgia, many of whom must shuffle their belongings from home to home in garbage bags during frequent relocations. The annual volunteer event was first launched by GCS in 2003 and has collected and distributed more than 17,800 bags. The 2008 event amassed nearly 4,500 bags. Originally held on Martin Luther King Day as a way to honor Dr. King’s vision and give back to the community, Totes is now held on the Friday before MLK Day as a kickoff to a weekend of service.

“Every year with the Totes for Tots program, we are truly reminded of what community service means, and that particularly holds true this year, as we met and exceeded our goal of 5,000 bags during tough economic times,” said Dr. Bruce Feinberg, President/CEO of GCS. “Totes is a service project that is near and dear to all of our hearts, and we believe we are honoring Dr. King’s dream.”

GCS partners with the Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) to distribute the bags in the counties in which they’re collected. Bobby Cagle, Family Services director for DFCS, is thrilled to be part of such a wonderful community service project.

“One of the most difficult times that a child may experience is being placed in an environment that is unfamiliar. Unfortunately, they are often placed with very little that belongs to them, carrying these items in a paper or plastic bag,” said Cagle. “Thanks to the Totes for Tots program, we’ve distributed more than 17,800 bags to children in the custody of DFCS. It is truly rewarding to see the expression on a child’s face when receiving their bag and realizing that it belongs to them! DFCS and the children and families we serve are grateful to the many volunteers who participate in this wonderful initiative.”

Totes has also gained the avid support of Gov. Sonny Perdue and First Lady Mary Perdue who are very active in the foster community and have been foster parents themselves.

“I’m pleased with the efforts of Totes for Tots in finding ways to meet the needs of abused and neglected children,” said First Lady Perdue. “This endeavor enables us to help Georgia’s foster community, and I’m delighted to see Georgians taking part in making a difference in the life of a child.”

In the true spirit of MLK Day, communities and businesses across the state mobilized to help foster children: in Atlanta, Honeywell donated 169 bags and local Weight Watchers members came through again with nearly 200 bags. In Lithonia, a mother, once a foster child herself, personally donated 75 bags. In Milledgeville, Georgia College and State University students helped promote and staff the event, and also secured 1,000 bags from their school. Atlanta Oncology Associates (AOA), a radiation therapy group, helped out at the five Georgia Centers for Total Cancer Care, a collaborative effort between AOA and GCS, in Blairsville, Hawkinsville, Lawrenceville, Lake Oconee and Macon, as well as in Alpharetta.

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