The Christmas spirit has come a little early for the Bigbys, a family of four in Gulfport.
“Every year our family does a goodwill project,” said Kailyn Bigby. Kailyn is a mom to sons Robert Jr, 4, and Issac, 8 months, and wife to Robert Bigby III. “I always try to stay community based.” Volunteering and donating to causes that are well vetted and meaningful is something Kailyn thinks is important.
“She usually does volunteer work, like at the Gulfport Food Forest,” said dad Robert, talking about Kailyn’s past holiday goodwill projects.
“We’ve never taken on something that required this much work and communication before,” said Kailyn.
This year’s project involves filling backpacks with donated toiletries, clothes, underwear, socks and more for foster girls at the Hannah Grace Home in Clermont, Florida. The family got involved with the Hannah Grace Home through their pastor, Tim Kelley. Pastor Kelly preaches at Grace Connection Church on 64th Street South. The Hannah Grace Homes are a tribute to his daughter, who died in 2012.
The homes, one in Clermont and another in South Carolina, aim to provide a safe place for foster girls who have been neglected and abused. The cause spoke to the family (Rob’s mother was once a foster parent) and they decided to take on the project, with an initial goal of filling three to five backpacks.
The decision to collect and fill backpacks with essentials was deliberate.
“We heard stories about how kids would show up with just the clothes on their back or their belongings in a paper bag or a trash bag and how awful it would be,” said Kailyn. With the stories of kids in need in their hearts, they quickly got started on the project.
“At first it started off as just friends and family,” said Kailyn. “But once I put up a post on Facebook about it, it has just taken off.” Kailyn posted about her donation collection on a Gulfport Facebook group on October 30, and locals eager to help flooded the comments section, Kailyn’s messenger inbox and her email.
“It just showed me how much goodness there is in Gulfport, and that when you want to help people, they want to help you,” she said.
As of November 13, backpacks for every girl at the Hannah Grace Home have been donated and are almost done being filled, but the Bigby’s are not done yet.
Their next request? Backpacks and items for five teenage boys.
Kailyn explained that when the home heard that girls coming to the home had brothers, they didn’t want to split the families up.
“And I didn’t want to disappoint the boys,” she said.
A project once started for three to five girls has grown quickly in just a few weeks.
Currently they’re looking for backpacks for five boys aged 10 to 16, plus toiletries and clothing items size medium to extra large.
People looking to help are welcome to donate individual items or contact Kailyn for information on a specific child’s sizes and needs. The cutoff for donations is December 5 and the bags will be presented to the children on Christmas.
“The love of Gulfport for these girls really is overwhelming sometimes to me,” said Kailyn. “I can’t wait for the girls to see the love this town has for them firsthand when they receive their bags.”
Donations can be dropped off at the Gulfport Library or Eyeglass World on Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater. To arrange a direct donation with the Bigby’s, they ask you reach out via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.