[singlepic id=469 w=320 h=240 float=left] Member for Mulgrave Curtis Pitt this week acknowledged the inspirational work of Innisfail woman Despina Parakas as part of recent International Women’s Day celebrations.

Each member of the Queensland Parliament nominated an inspiration and pioneering woman as part of a new awards program instigated by the Speaker of Queensland Parliament Fiona Simpson.

“With so much fine work being undertaken in the community by women it was a very difficult decision to make, however the work of Despina Parakas I think set her apart,” Mr Pitt said.

“Since 2009, Despina has run a small not for profit project called ‘Backpacks 4 Aussie Kids’ which provides backpacks to children entering foster and kinship care.

“When considering taking on the role of foster carers, Despina and her partner discovered that in many cases children are put into care with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.

“It can be extremely traumatic for a child to be taken into care, often without notice, so it is good for them to have personal items to help cope in a difficult time. The backpacks generally contain clothing, pyjamas, a little blanket, new underwear, age appropriate toy or book, toiletries and a torch. Children in care can be all ages, from newborn babies to teenagers.

“Despina Parakas originally made it her mission to fill 1,000 backpacks with essential personal items for children in care. With the help of the projects established in Perth and Townsville, Despina reached 1,230 backpacks at the start of January 2010.

“Since reaching that milestone, she has now expressed a desire to continue the project indefinitely and has almost reached her new target of 5,000 backpacks, with additional projects now established in Hope Valley (South Australia), Newcastle, Melbourne, Rockhampton and Brisbane.

“Despina is a motivated young woman who balances her backpack program with her day job as a prep teacher.”

Ms Parakas thanked Mr Pitt for the award and said she was touched by all the people who have assisted her.

“Back in 2009 when I was considering becoming a foster carer I was at a meeting and the carer had to drop everything to go to the hospital to pick up a baby. She said that first she would have to stop at the shops to pick up nappies, formula and clothes,” Ms Parakas said.

“It struck me then that children going into foster care go with nothing and that’s when I decided to do something about it.

“After four weeks I had $400 in donations and it began from there. Recently I has so many packs to fill I had to call on some backpackers to help me fill all the backpacks – which is quite funny if you think about it.

“Any donations of clothing and pyjamas of any size as well as toiletries, blankets, books and toys are welcome.

“For babies items such as nappies, bottles, wraps, wipes and disposable change mats are needed.

Cash donations are especially welcome as we can then go and purchase exactly what is needed. Money can be securely transferred via our website.

“Businesses can sponsor a backpack and it’s contents for $25 with the funds going to purchase a backpack, torch, underwear, pyjamas and an age appropriate activity with all other items comprised of donations. Businesses will receive a special certificate to show they have helped make a child feel more secure.”

Donations can be dropped off at 109 Palmerston Drive Innisfail or the Mulgrave Electorate Office, 94-96 Norman Street Gordonvale.

For more information, visit www.backpacks4aussiekids.com.au