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Bags full of hope

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    Volunteers line up to stuff "Anthony's Blessing Bags" with personal items for men and women during Assist Communities' holiday drive and potluck Sunday afternoon at the Avon Lake Old Fire House.

    ANNA NORRIS / CHRONICLE

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    Vicki Wood, of Avon, sinches a bag shut filled with womens personal items as she and other volunteers put together "Anthony's Blessing Bags" with personal care items for men and women during the Assist Communities county wide Holiday drive Sunday afternoon at the Old Avon Lake Firehouse.

    ANNA NORRIS/CHRONICLE

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AVON LAKE — To help recovering addicts get through the holiday season, parents and family members of those suffering from addiction stuffed toiletries, granola bars and handwritten cards into bright green drawstring bags Sunday.

Members of Assist Communities worked with The Addict’s Parents United to put together the “Anthony’s Angels Blessing Bags” drive, named for Anthony Hejl, who died Nov. 15, 2014, from an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin.

“When my son was in recovery, which was three times, he would share his toiletries with people who didn’t have, so it was my husband and my vision to start these blessing bags to give back in memory of my son,” said Cindy Hejl, an administrator with TAP.

Assist Communities will deliver 200 of the bags to sober homes including The Key, Genesis by the Lake, Margeau’s House, Primary Purpose and Road to Hope Inc. TAP will deliver thousands more to recovery homes throughout the state.

Marnie Butler, whose son is in recovery at Primary Purpose, said winter is when many addicts may seek help because they want to get out of the cold.

“There are addicts who burn bridges and then come in (to recovery) with nothing,” Butler said. “The response for them has been awesome.”

In the Avon Lake Old Fire House, Christmas music played softly in the background while people filled the bags and talked.

Butler said it’s nice to be in a community of people who understand what it’s like to watch a child go through addiction and fight against the stigma of addiction,

Among those volunteering was Mayor Greg Zilka, who fought backlash from some in the community when he issued his support for those suffering from addiction.

“If people don’t think they have it in their community, then they have a serious problem because they don’t realize this has to be addressed,” Zilka said. “Addiction and alcoholism is not going to go away, but it can be managed.”

Zilka was encouraged by the turnout for Issue 35, which asked Lorain County voters in November to fund resident detox programs and other addiction services. Though the issue failed overall, Zilka said the measure passed in Avon Lake and Oberlin, which to him meant that their message was landing.

“We want to try to create an environment where people know they can get help,” Zilka said.

Jeff Sanders, assistant director at Road to Hope, wrote cards to people with messages of hope.

“I have been writing, may your hope and strength be renewed during this holiday season,” Sanders said. “And, Merry Christmas.”

Contact Jodi Weinberger at 329-7245 or jweinberger@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jodi_Weinberger.

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