HAZLETON, Pa. – In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, students and staff at Penn State Hazleton recently prepared dozens of “Beloved Bundles” – kits designed to provide compassion and comfort to sexual assault survivors.
Volunteers packed 108 bundles with clothing, undergarments, hygiene products and other essential items and provided them to the Victims Resource Center in Luzerne County and Sexual Assault Resource and Counseling Center (SARCC) in Schuylkill County.
The effort is one of the initiatives of Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission, a nonprofit founded by Tracy Matheson in memory of her daughter, Molly Jane Matheson. Molly Jane was 22 years old when she was raped and murdered in 2017 at her apartment in Texas.
Speaking to volunteers via Zoom, Tracy Matheson said, “Molly’s death is not the end of her story and I am committed to seeing that it is a catalyst for change.”
“Beloved Bundles” are an important part of that mission, she added.
Survivors of sexual assault are often left with nothing to wear home from the hospital after undergoing a Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE), commonly called a “rape kit,” because their clothing and belongings are taken as police evidence, she said.
“Beloved Bundles” ensures survivors can leave the hospital with dignity, she said. More than 5,000 have been provided to survivors throughout the country since 2019.
The donations prepared by Penn State Hazleton students and staff couldn’t have come at a better time for the Victims Resource Center, said Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Beck.
“We just did inventory and were going to have to reach out on Facebook for donations, so this is absolutely perfect,” Beck said.
Students who volunteered to assemble the kits said they were heartbroken to hear Moly Jane Matheson’s story, but thankful that this tragedy brought about a cause that benefits so many survivors.
“Knowing there’s a resource like this where people want to help if something should happen is a great thing to have,” said junior Nikki O’Neil.
Sophomore James Walsh added, “It was devastating to hear but powerful at the same time to know she’s dedicated her life to this.”
Tracy Matheson said she founded Project Beloved to educate, advocate and collaborate to change the conversation about sexual assault and empower survivors.
She began advocating for change after learning the man charged with her daughter’s murder had been linked to another rape but remained free. Then Molly Jane and another woman, Megan Leigh Getrum, were killed less than two weeks apart.
“I had the idea that Molly’s death could be a game-changer in how sexual assault cases are investigated and prosecuted,” she said.
Her advocacy helped lead to the passage of “Molly Jane’s Law” in Texas in 2019. The law requires all state law enforcement officials to enter information for each sex offense they investigate into ViCAP (Violent Criminal Apprehension Program), a program administered by the FBI.
The law has already led to at least one arrest on sexual assault charges, Tracy Matheson said.
Project Beloved’s other initiatives include a scholarship set up in Molly Jane’s memory and helping law enforcement install “soft interview rooms,” safe spaces meant to help victims and witnesses of traumatic events feel at ease when reporting sensitive crimes.
“We can do better, and we must,” Tracy Matheson said.
To learn more about Project Beloved, visit www.projectbeloved.com.