Margie Snyder tried to talk her daughter out of it.
The Bowie mother knew how much work it would take to do what 7-year-old Makenzie wanted: to collect luggage for foster care children she'd heard about, kids forced to carry their stuff in garbage bags as they moved from home to home.
It was a big job for a little kid. "You're too young," Margie Snyder kept telling Makenzie. But at each yard sale the family routinely stopped by, Makenzie would rummage for suitcases. Eventually her mother gave in.
Yesterday, after a year and a lot of suitcases, Makenzie went to the Ionia R. Whipper Home in Northwest Washington to receive a $15,000 check from the Freddie Mac Foundation to fund her suitcase project.
In the past year, Makenzie, now 8, has collected and distributed about 1,000 used suitcases, with the help of her Brownie troop and schoolmates, who sold lollipops to raise money. (Makenzie said she is in third grade at St. Pius, "with a big X on the end.")
Makenzie arrived in jeans and sneakers, dragging a suitcase on wheels, duffle bags slung over each shoulder, ponytail swinging. She was greeted by Joan Hurley, the home's executive director.
Of the 5,600 foster children in the region, about 3,000 are from the District. Hurley said that over the last 20 years, she has seen a lot of children filled with pain walk through the doors of her home for teenage girls, the vast majority lugging garbage bags or old supermarket sacks.
"When you put everything you own into a garbage bag, from your teddy bear to your tennis shoes, it's hard to have any pride," said Hurley. "It tells the children they have nothing of value and suggests they have no value, either."
As her mother remembers it, Makenzie first heard about what social workers sarcastically call "state luggage" from a Reader's Digest article. Makenzie has a vague recollection of that but said what really got her was a movie.
"It was about a girl whose dad was always drunk and her mother died, and she had to go to the house of an aunt who was mean," she said. "And when the whole family died, she went to this lady with lots of foster children, about 20 I think. And she didn't even have a suitcase."
Whatever the impetus, Makenzie is determined to provide more dignified containers.
She came to the Freddie Mac Foundation in a circuitous way. In 1996, Makenzie's two brothers saw a broadcast about three children dying in a fire because firefighters couldn't find them. Within six months, the boys had raised $25,000 to buy a pair of special goggles for the local fire station. Then came the raffles and door-to-door campaigns as they and friends raised $45,000 more for a rehabilitated fire engine.
A few months ago, Makenzie waited with her mom at the office of the Prince George's Community Foundation, where brothers, Cory, 15, and Brock, 13, were having serious discussions about how the foundation should distribute money the boys had raised for their fire rescue charity.
And there was Makenzie, jiggling, doing flips, getting bubble gum caught in her hair. At one point she blurted out, "Would you like to hear about my project?"
She described her mission and said she could use some money, too.
An official at the meeting called a former employer, Freddie Mac Foundation. The next day, Makenzie answered the phone and found a man from the foundation on the line, offering $15,000.
"Do you know how much money that is?" he asked. "Yeah, a lot," said Makenzie, a baton-twirling, ballet-dancing girl who says she likes every sport.
In her letter thanking the foundation, Makenzie wrote: "Because of your help, 1,200 kids won't have to cary trash bags with thare stuff in enymore. They will have a nice suitcausse. You made a difference today. Cincerley, Makenzie." The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments will oversee spending and help identify children in need.
Each bag will come with a stuffed animal, and a note: "God told me you could use a duffle bag and a cuddly friend. So, I send this with love to you."
At yesterday's ceremony, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) praised Makenzie for seeing a problem and saying, "I may not be able to solve it, but I can do something." He added he was relieved that the Snyder children are too young to run for Congress.
The children's father, Dan, a safety director for a general contractor, said he doesn't know what inspires his children. He is a scout leader, and Margie, a homemaker, volunteers at school, but the children took things a step beyond the routine.
Makenzie explains it simply. "Foster kids aren't respected by their parents like they're supposed to be, so I want to respect them."
CAPTION: After learning of foster children using garbage bags for their things, Makenzie Snyder, 8, right, began collecting luggage for them. She showed Joan Hurley, director of the Ionia R. Whipper Home director, how she puts a stuffed animal inside each bag.