Have you ever started down a career path and decided that maybe this isn’t for you, or started working in a particular field and then decided that your mission was bigger than that – and was destined to create something so simple and obvious yet no one had done or was doing it?
Rikki Cooke has spent the last 12 months building an organisation that assists kids and families living in Emergency Care housing. For over a year, she’s been collecting, sorting and donating clothing, shoes, toys, books and apparel to hundreds of families in need of emergency assistance, where mothers have had to leave their homes in the middle of the night with nothing but a few items stored in a backpack with their children.
Imagine yourself under the moonlight staring into the widened eyes of your children – those beautiful faces staring back at you are wondering why they have been pulled from their beds in the middle of the night, and whisked away from the place they know to be home. Children are so innocent and in most instances are not aware of the circumstances that they have been living in – home is just home. Circumstances that would lead their parent or family member taking high risks just to see them safe from a potentially life-threatening environment they have been living in, take.
Upon arrival at your new home, you have none of your own belongings, none of your favorite clothes, your bedding doesn’t smell the same, you can no longer hide in your secret spot, and those familiar surroundings you cherished have gone. Those friends in the neighborhood, that dog that barks when the mailman arrives, the strange rooster no longer crows and even the bin truck has changed. Everything your parent has worked to own, have sacrificed and now walked away from – your toys, bedding, furniture even kitchen appliances – gone.
If you’re a child that has been taken from your parents and placed in the care of the government for your own safety, you’re classed as living in Emergency Care and now have to learn new faces and names, new routines and even what you eat. These people who care for you are extremely qualified and equipped for the job of protecting you also means you may have counsellors probing into your personal thoughts and have ‘strange’ new behavior strategies put into place ‘for your benefit’.
This is an enormous thing to have to happen in your short life, and it can be extremely overwhelming. And then someone arrives with a box of goodies. Opening it up and looking inside, you are filled with new-found happiness and relief at the items inside that have been carefully and lovingly picked to suit the requirements of your family.
Inside this beautiful little treasure box, they’re clothes for your family, sized by age and gender for you and your siblings. There are toys, games, puzzles, books, race cars or dolls, and even a stuffed teddy to cuddle at night when you’re scared.
All of these items have been donated or collected, stored and then hand packed by one absolutely incredible woman – Rikki Cooke.
I have to admit when I met Rikki, I knew that she was a truly inspiring woman but getting to know more about the work she does and how proud, humbled & grateful she is to be able to provide a service like this is remarkable! The satisfaction she feels and tears of joy she sheds when receiving a thank you card or a photo of these children enjoying their new found goods restores my faith in humanity.
What does she do? Well, she collects the goods via donations from the public, manufacturer or retailer outlet, then sorts all items into sizes, genders, and types. These mostly pre-loved items are then stored in tubs and await the careful picking and packing into their very own unique ‘Treasure Box’ where they will be collected and dropped to their new homes.
Again this is all done singlehandedly by the Director for the time being until such time as a suitable location is found to expand operations on a larger scale in order to help more disadvantaged community members. There is an army of volunteers waiting patiently in the wings until such time, with the hopes of one day being able to appoint a Manager to the team. Future aims also include commencing a work for the dole program where those with little or no skill set can volunteer, establish a good working ethic over 3 months, and leave with a personal reference from the Director herself in the hopes of securing payable employment.
Treasure Boxes started with humble beginnings and as such, the organization currently receives no funding and relies on volunteers and donators to service the many children and families in need.
Amongst all of this charitable work, Rikki is completing her Bachelor of Behavior Science majoring in criminology – working herself as an Emergency Care worker for kids that have been removed from their homes, and raising two very beautiful children of her own. Rikki originally aspired to become a forensic criminal profiler, working within the juvenile justice system, which has led her to complete many years of studying and in the final stages of a Masters in Clinical Social Work majoring in Grief and Trauma.
It’s Rikki’s daily grind which is unlike that of most of us, collating herself in the morning and dropping her youngest son to school, then mentally preparing herself to give as much as humanly possible to the child she will care for during the day. Driving to the Emergency Care placement, she may spend up to the next 24 hours caring for and bonding with children from all walks of life, some heavily grief-stricken or dealing with trauma, others that are shorter stays providing a safe space for a little while until the danger has passed.
OK, I hear you all slowly ticking it all over and asking so how exactly did all of this actually start.
Being so passionate about her job caring for kids in Emergency Care, she was approached by a friend who had heard of a family in need that had just been relocated and homed into a safe house. Rikki quickly acquired the items from friends around her, and then reflected on how simple a process it had been to ask for a few things to help kids in need from such a small group of people. “Most people really want to help and donate to kids in need – they just don’t know who or where to go. Once we created a space where people can donate and have those items go directly to where they are most needed, the response from the community was overwhelming!” And that my friends, was the beginning of something beautiful and unlike anything done before.
Since that time a year ago, Treasure Boxes has had hundreds and thousands of items collected and re-homed! With news spreading of this venture – and given The Good Guys’ very generous donation last year of a combined total of $10,000 worth of apparel and donations which were used as Christmas gifts in 2015 – it’s not surprising that Rikki is desperately searching for a new 200 square meter storage facility, as funding is still yet to be sourced. The plight has turned into one of hoping that the organization can find a willing party to donate some temporary space or better yet – a new, permanent home & fixed location for this amazing organization.
If you know of a business that would be willing to help this deserving Director find such a place, I would be very welcoming of your contact.