Changing lives with a backpack


A new pair of pyjamas and a toothbrush might not seem like much, but to a child in foster care it can mean everything.

Foster Hope Northland provides children being taken into care with a backpack filled with a few essentials such as books, a cuddly toy, pyjamas, toiletries and other donated items.


“Our aim is to show these children that their community cares about them and they are very precious,” says Foster Hope Northland Co-ordinator Debbie Sutcliffe. “We want to give them something special during a very traumatic time in their lives.”

Support from the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund means Foster Hope Northland can now buy 700 new lunchboxes to put into its backpacks.

“We’ve never been able to afford lunchboxes before, we’ve only had the basics to get these children through the first few hours or days away from home. Sometimes the kids have to go to school on Monday and the caregiver hasn’t got a lunchbox for them,” Debbie says.

“This may seem like a basic item, but being able to take your lunch to school in your own lunchbox like every other child is important when you are little.” 


Foster Hope keeps foster care agencies in the region stocked with the backpacks so social workers have one available when they uplift a child from his or her home.

“I have been very privileged to meet some of the children and hear how our backpacks bring joy into their lives. Having your own shampoo or toothbrush is so exciting when you’ve had to share or had none.  To have your own new pair of pyjamas is very special,” Debbie says.

Being able to take your lunch to school in your own lunchbox like every other child is important when you are little.


“I never imagined when I first became involved with the charity how big an impact we would have in children’s lives.”

“I have a core group of a dozen ladies who collate items to put into the backpacks.  I have many more supporters throughout Northland who knit, crochet and sew at home or in retirement villages – all ages are helping to show these children we are there for them,” says Debbie.  

Each year, the Fonterra Grass Roots Fund helps up to 300 groups in New Zealand, supporting community initiatives through grants to charities, schools, clubs and local emergency services.

“The Fonterra Grass Roots Fund is our way of saying thank you by supporting projects and ideas that bring our communities together and make them better places to be,” says Fonterra’s Global Sponsorship Manager Kane Silcock.

Foster Hope is a national organisation and has eight branches throughout New Zealand, with volunteers helping in each region.