Skip to main content

Sandy Journal

‘Garbage Bag Girl’ details heartbreaking experience in the Utah foster care system

Feb 09, 2024 02:38PM ● By Peri Kinder

Celeste Edmunds, executive director of The Christmas Box International, shares her heartbreaking story of a childhood spent in the Utah foster care system in her memoir, “Garbage Bag Girl.” (Aligned Media)

When Celeste Edmunds entered the state’s foster care system at 7 years old, she spent the next nine years moving from family to family, and home to home. She carried her belongings in a garbage bag and lived in more than 30 cities by the age of 16. 

Edmunds recently published her memoir “Garbage Bag Girl” co-authored by New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans. It’s a story of resilience and hope, and a heartbreaking account of her childhood that was often filled with abuse and neglect. 

“My childhood was a difficult and often unbearable experience where evil manipulation almost broke my spirit. But there were also caring people along the way who stepped in to do what they could to protect and nurture me,” said Edmunds. “As an adult, I look back at those moments and realize that they saved my life. My goal is to help as many children as possible in the child welfare system and help to ensure that they have the opportunities for success that I was not provided.”

Surviving everything from her parents addiction to an ongoing series of fights, sexual and physical abuse, being adopted by a sadistic mother and fighting to stay connected to her younger siblings, Edmunds rose against the odds to tap into her own strength and power.

As a teen, Edmunds went down a dark and difficult path before a compassionate woman offered Edmunds a safe home and taught her that “Home is where they have to keep you.” Edmunds was 16, a high school dropout and it was the first time she felt supported and nurtured. 

She dedicated her book to the woman, Carlie, who she considers to be her mom. Carlie eventually adopted Edmunds and didn’t know the book would be dedicated to her. Edmunds said without the influence of Carlie and other people who believed in her, she would have ended up incarcerated or dead. 

“[Carlie] read the dedication and there was a moment of the two of us realizing what it all meant for us,” Edmunds said. “I said there is nothing I can ever give you to express how much you’ve given me. The book is the best I could do.

“I like to remind her, very often, that nowhere I am today, nothing successful I’ve done would have happened without her…I don’t know where I would have landed.”

Edmunds, a Sandy resident, believes everything in her life prepared her for her job as executive director of The Christmas Box International, an organization that offers a safe and nurturing environment to thousands of children each year as they begin to navigate the child welfare system. 

Located at 3660 S. West Temple Street in South Salt Lake, The Christmas Box International was founded in 1996 by Evans with the intention to create a safe place for Utah’s children. The organization was named after his first book, “The Christmas Box.” 

In the forward to “Garbage Bag Girl,” Evans writes, “I believe that ‘Garbage Bag Girl’ should be required reading for every parent, foster parent, child welfare worker, and schoolteacher; in short, everyone who advocates and cares for the children of the world.”

Now, every child that leaves The Christmas Box International chooses new clothing, a new toy, new hygiene products and a new suitcase, backpack or duffle bag so they won’t have to carry their items in a garbage bag. 

“Our motto is that every child deserves a childhood but it extends to the fact that no child deserves to feel like garbage,” Edmunds said. “In 27 years, no child has ever left the Christmas Box House with their items in a garbage sack. We’re very proud of that. Children also never leave with used items, they get only new items. It’s about a mindset we want to teach them that they deserve to know what it feels like to have a new pair of jeans or a new pair of sneakers.”

For more information about The Christmas Box House International, visit Edmunds’ book “Garbage Bag Girl” is available on Amazon. λ