Hometown: Newton, Iowa
Family: Dad Mike; mom Cathy; brother Josh, 27; and sister Allison, 30
Every week teacher Annie Wignall encourages her second grade students to take positive actions that will "fill someone else's bucket." This has been her mantra for more than a decade. In January 2000, Annie's mom, a child-abuse prevention educator, returned home from an emotional day of work and shared stories about kids suddenly uprooted from their homes without time to pack personal belongings. "At 11 years old, I couldn't put myself in their shoes," says Annie. "I thought about what I would want to take with me and how I could help."
With her parents' support, Annie spent the next month contacting local businesses to solicit donations of toiletries, stuffed animals and games. To her surprise, they all said yes. The next step was filling up bags, often hand-sewn and mailed in by volunteers, with goodies based on a child's age and gender. Agencies let the Care Bags Foundation know what they need, and Annie invites friends, students, church groups and other volunteers to the donated warehouse to stuff more than 100 bags a month. They are then either picked up or shipped from headquarters.
So far, nearly 20,000 have been given to more than 150 domestic and 59 international distributors to deliver to displaced, abused and disadvantaged children. The Wignalls have also put together a Care Bags Starter Kit, a guide to setting up your own nonprofit, and have helped launch 68 similar programs, including one in Africa run by former Care Bags recipients. Annie teaches in Pella, Iowa, her college town, and working for the organization links the different stages of her life. This year students from her alma mater, Central College, mentored her class, helping the kids fill bags and write thank-you letters to donors. "The coolest part is that Care Bags and I have grown up together," she says. "I went from a child with an idea to a teacher hoping to inspire big dreams in my students."
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.