For most airline passengers, losing luggage is a temporary inconvenience. For a few, however, luggage becomes permanently lost — and ends up helping thousands of people, including foster children moving into new homes.
It all happens at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. According to the website, each year, about half of 1 percent of luggage fails to be returned to its owners at the baggage carousel, often because of missing identification tags. The airlines search for the owners of the found luggage, but if after 90 days they can't reunite the luggage, the owners are compensated and the bags are purchased by the Unclaimed Baggage Center. The result? A staggering 1 million items pour into the Unclaimed Baggage Center each year.
Every day the Unclaimed Baggage Center is open for business, thousands of new items are stocked on the sale floor. Visitors to the center can get help from a concierge-style team to guide their shopping experience or meet with a personal style advisor who will create a customized shopping profile. And, at 2:30 p.m. each day, visitors can experience firsthand what it's like to open an unprocessed bag.
Not all items end up being sold. About one-third of the unclaimed items are donated through the Unclaimed Baggage Center's nonprofit foundation, Reclaimed for Good.
Reclaimed For Good
Reclaimed for Good has processed and donated millions of dollars' worth of clothes, medical supplies and equipment, supplied hundreds of thousands of people with eyeglasses, and helped rebuild thousands of damaged wheelchairs for disabled adults and children, according to Brenda Cantrell, Reclaimed for Good's brand ambassador.
"In our 49-year history, giving has always been a cornerstone of Unclaimed Baggage Center, but we recently established Reclaimed for Good," Cantrell says. "It aims to make a difference through products, programs and people."
The goods are distributed by Reclaimed for Good to a variety of charities. For example, the organization donates wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes to Wheels for the World, which refurbishes used items and distributes them to people affected by disabilities worldwide. Reclaimed for Good also donates strollers and car seats to Buckner International for foster care and adoption programs.
Other charity partners include the Department of Human Resources Foster Parent Program, the Salvation Army, Turning Point Pregnancy Center, Samaritan's Purse World Medical Missions, Lions Club Sight First Program and Samaritan's Purse: Operation Christmas Child.
"We also host Couture for a Cure Fashion Show Fundraiser that raises money for local breast cancer patient assistance funds. Our models are local breast cancer survivors or supportive friends and family (dressed in items from our retail store) that walk the stage to a sold out crowd," Cantrell says.
In addition, its Love Luggage program provides hand-painted suitcases to children moving to new foster homes.
When Alabama children enter foster care, they often carry their belongings in trash bags, but Reclaimed for Good is hoping to change this. Throughout the year, Reclaimed for Good collects hard-sided suitcases that are then painted by volunteers and donated to foster children.
"We host Love Luggage painting sessions for private groups who are visiting the Foundation, as well as sessions at a local arts festival, and invite guests to paint suitcases in our retail store during designated times," Cantrell says. "It's actually quite simple — and it brings out the artist in everyone."
The idea is similar to that of other organizations across the United States that are painting and donating suitcases to foster children, or that are raising money to sponsor suitcases or duffel bags for foster children.
"These unique suitcases let the children know that they are loved by people they have never met before. It's a small ray of sunshine and hope during a difficult time in their lives — and it's something to call their very own," Cantrell says. "We are on track to donate about 100 painted suitcases in 2019, but anticipate this number to grow quite a bit in the next 12 to 18 months with new goals we have in place for this wonderful program."