Several sixth-graders were recently busy in a bright and colorful room that sits behind a 180-year-old home that now houses Little House Animal Hospital in the Grassland community.
A few were gathered around a table working on what appeared to be arts and crafts, while others were steadily pulling items off neatly filled shelves and placing in bags. But despite the room’s location inside a building adjacent to a veterinarian practice, these youngsters weren’t tending to the needs of dogs, cats, rabbits or other pets one might find inside an animal hospital.
No, their focus was on helping to provide essentials for children of all ages who have found themselves in the foster care system. These sixth-graders on this particular day happened to be from Christ Presbyterian Academy, and they were volunteering with a relatively young nonprofit organization known as Love on Wheels.
Founded by Dr. Kathleen Kunkel, a Franklin veterinarian since 1992 and in her current location at 1109 Battlewood St. for the last 10 years, Love on Wheels provides children entering the foster system with suitcases filled with brand new life necessities such as clothing, toiletries and toys. Suitcases are tailored for boys and girls of all ages, and each one includes a note of friendship on handmade cards from the many volunteers.
Though Kunkel’s vocation is directed toward animals, she is equally passionate about children. She saw a video a few years ago about foster care, and in it was a foster child carrying his meager possessions in a trash bag.
“I thought then there had to be a way to remedy this,” Kunkel said.
“I believe that all human beings should be treated with respect, love and compassion,” she added. “For children in foster care, it’s such a challenging situation for them through no fault of their own. I feel like this is a small way we can reach out and show them respect, love and compassion, and show them that they have value. I feel like that message really resonates with people when they hear about what we are doing.”
Word has, indeed, spread. Love on Wheels began as a ministry through Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Grassland in 2015 (it was established as its own nonprofit in July 2016), and it is already serving foster children in 15 counties in Tennessee. It works with local CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) organizations to identify needs, and uses volunteers to help distribute luggage and provisions.
“It’s been amazing the way we’ve been able to reach foster directors and different people across the state, and little by little we’re crawling across the state,” Kunkel said. “It’s exciting, because our goal is to take it across the nation, but first we want to get it right in Tennessee.”
Beginning with the staff at Little House, Love on Wheels has enlisted help from partners and a wide range of volunteers — from church groups to businesses.
“Every week we have different volunteers coming,” Kunkel said. “People hear about us and call to offer help. It’s remarkable the way the word is getting out and people are responding.”
It’s especially meaningful when the helpers are children, like in the recent case with the students from CPA.
“We want our students to know what it feels like to serve and love others,” said Caroline Eddy, sixth-grade English teacher at CPA and supervisor of the student volunteers. “It’s amazing to watch as these kids put themselves in the shoes of kids in the foster care system. It’s great to know we’re helping these children.”
For more information on Love on Wheels or to volunteer or donate, call 615-791-9148 or visit www.love-on-wheels.org.