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UAlbany, Albany Med to pack comfort bags for victims of sexual violence

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Shampoo. A change of clothing. Toothbrushes and toothpaste. Deodorant. A teddy bear. And a small note of encouraging words. What do these things have in common? They are all in care kits for sexual assault victims assembled at UAlbany’s “We Care” event, which will celebrate its fifth-year anniversary on campus on Thursday, April 11.

“We Care” is an event in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness month, where UAlbany partners with Albany Medical Center (Albany Med) to make comfort bags for sexual violence victims.

People who go to Albany Medical Center for treatment or investigation receive the bags.

“What we’re doing is we’re creating care packages for individuals who are going for forensic examinations because they’re victims of sexual assault,” said Amelia Barbadoro, UAlbany’s interim Director of Equity and Compliance and Title IX Coordinator who will be running the event for the first time this year.

Each year, community volunteers gather in assembly lines to put together these bags, which are then loaded onto an ambulance and sent to Albany Medical Center.

“We have men’s kits, women’s kits, kits for pediatrics. Unfortunately, they always produce 350, and they’ve run out each year before the year is up. This year, we’re producing 700 bags as compared to 350. We’re doubling the number of bags.”

Part of the high demand for comfort bags is that they are not just given to victims, but friends or family members who accompany them to the hospital. Often, victims undergo SANE, or the Sexual Assault Nurse’s Exam to forensically test for evidence of rape and sexual violence.

“They take your clothes a lot of times when they’re doing these exams, so the bags include clothing. Sometimes you’re there late at night, or overnight, you’re waiting for long periods of time, so there’s toiletries,” Barbadoro said as she looked in a sample bag.

“There’s a teddy bear, which is for support. There’s a gift card. Every single person who’s there (at the event) writes out a little note of encouragement and puts that into the bag as well.”

The partnership between UAlbany and Albany Med dates back before the We Care events, according to Albany Med’s Sexual Assault Nurse Coordinator Kaylin Dawson.

“We have an MOU with (UAlbany), it’s a memorandum of understanding, meaning that if any patient was to come to any of the teachers or the counseling service and said that they were sexually assaulted, UAlbany knows that they can send all of their students to us,” Dawson said.

“So I approached them and asked if they wanted to partner with this We Care event, and they did. It’s kind of grown and evolved, and here we are in our fifth year.”

In recent years, the raised awareness of sexual assault and available resources has led to greater numbers reporting to the hospital for incidents. Although she couldn’t speak to exact numbers, Dawson acknowledges need for more bags is evident.

“I don’t necessarily think (sexual assault) is occurring more, just a greater awareness of the availability of those resources. I think just because it’s so much in the media, everyone’s talking about it. Everyone knows after an assault that they can go to the hospital. More people are aware of what can be done for them after an assault.”

Due to the ambitious number of bags being assembled, Barbadoro urges any students who are available to volunteer.

“This provides people with the opportunity to make a difference. Just by showing up here and donating two hours of their time they have been a part of an event that’s supporting these victims,” she said.

“You’re not just supporting one victim, but hundreds of victims and their families… And you’re standing side-by-side with other community members. We have members of management come, there’s outside community members, there’s people from Albany Med, the DA’s office, the Albany police, UPD; you’re joining forces with so many people and I think that it exposes students to the community at-large.”

We Care will take place in SEFCU Arena on Thursday, April 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. Any and all students are welcome to volunteer for comfort bag assembly.

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