- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - Kindness is traveling throughout Richmond, thanks to a local girl’s idea.

Her idea of spreading kindness is even spreading to at least two other states.

Olivia Dudas, a 10-year-old Seton Catholic fifth-grader, has developed an initiative called the Traveling Bag of Kindness to collect items for local children at Christmas.

She’s encouraging area residents to take one of her gift bags and fill it with at least one item they think a child would like.

Then, they pass the bag to a trusted friend to add items and keep it traveling until it’s ready for pickup.

After the Dec. 20 deadline, Olivia will deliver the filled bags to the Salvation Army and Genesis shelters for the items to given to their young clients.

Olivia came up with the idea after watching a segment on TV about paying it forward. She saw Indiana Pacers team members visiting children at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

“They’re smiling and happy, and I thought we could do that here,” Olivia said.

She sat for a while brainstorming a plan to help local kids smile. She decided traveling bags to collect toys and other items would help accomplish the goal. Her plan started modestly.

“I was thinking of paper doggy bags,” she said.

But, as enthusiasm spread for the project and large-sized donations started coming in, she realized large gift bags would help.

“We need huge ones,” she said.

Proud mom Andrea Dudas posted Olivia’s project on her Facebook page to let friends know about the idea.

“People want to help, but they get busy and need that reminder,” Andrea said. “She reminded me. Sometimes you need a soft nudge. She’s my nudge.”

By day two, 16 bags had been requested and delivered.

By day three, that increased to 22.

As of this past weekend, 33 bags were traveling.

“I only thought we’d have three bags,” Olivia said. “Nope, now there’s 11 times that.”

Olivia’s principal, Kim Becker, said she’s proud to see her “thoughtful” student leading this effort.

“She’s gotten the gist of the need to serve, and she’s doing it,” Becker said.

After students hear about needs in the community, Becker said they’re willing to donate, but it’s unusual for a 10-year-old to take the initiative for such a project.

“She is an organized kid and able to follow through and carry it out,” Becker said. “She’s a little beyond her years in being able to do that.”

Becker started adding items to a bag at school, and other Seton employees are contributing as well. It includes toys, clothes, a blanket and arts and craft kits so far. Several Seton families are passing bags throughout the community, too.

In addition, some Northeastern Elementary classes are participating, with parents encouraged to give an item for a traveling bag instead of giving the teacher a holiday gift.

“It makes me happy that so many people care about kids in need, and now it’s branching out so far,” Olivia said. “I’m extremely, extremely happy because everyone is joining in together putting kindness into a bag and it’s traveling.”

Bags also are being filled at local businesses such as Dance Techniques with Cheryl DeLucio, Shear Designers and Barnhizer & Associates. Some of Andrea Dudas’ clients at RMD-Patti Insurance are dropping off items, money or gift bags at her office, too.

Olivia said the items in bags she’s already collected include everything from a bracelet-making set to Barbies, a Leap Pad, coloring books and a lot of stuffed animals. She’s also getting clothing items such as hats, scarves, gloves, clothes, socks and underwear that many kids need.

Olivia wants to make sure older kids get presents, too, and encourages shoppers to think beyond young kids’ toys. One Girl Scout troop is contributing gifts for 13-year-olds.

Because of so many donations coming in, Olivia is excited to be able to help two local organizations.

Giving isn’t new for Olivia. She’s already been donating what she’s outgrown to Genesis.

Through this project, she wants local kids to know the community cares about them on Christmas.

“To give them that extra love - it makes me happy they have something,” she said.

Andrea gives Olivia the credit for showing initiative.

“I’m just the bag fairy - all I do is I deliver and I pick up,” said Andrea Dudas.

Olivia is even giving impromptu presentations about the Traveling Bag of Kindness at sites such as Hand in Hand Adult Day Care, which is participating. The adult day care has purchased some toys for the project, but first, their clients will win the toys as bingo prizes and then add them to the bags. The participants get to be part of the project that way.

Olivia’s project is already spreading beyond Indiana.

Andrea’s sister Jama Brown lives in Delaware, Ohio, and helped get Olivia’s holiday spirit going there.

Jama was chatting with her hairdresser, Loren Ball, about Olivia’s project. Ball collects pajamas to deliver to Romanian orphans through her charitable effort called ThirtyNine Orphans Project.

At one of her pajama fundraisers last weekend, Ball presented Andrea with two bags of items for Olivia’s project. Andrea and Olivia were touched by her generosity.

Ball also is spreading the word on Facebook about the Traveling Bag of Kindness and encourages other Ohioans to start something similar. And a friend plans to take a bag to Georgia and encourage her family to donate and then give the items to a charity there.

Olivia said she’s already planning to repeat the Traveling Bag of Kindness for next Christmas.

Becker said she wants to talk with Olivia after the inaugural effort concludes about any challenges she faced and the possibility of expanding the Traveling Bag of Kindness at Seton next year.

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Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, http://pinews.co/2htHoqm

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Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com

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