MANKATO, Minn. — When Josh and Jennifer Chan got a bag filled with items a relative thought might be good for their son Owen, it spurred an effort by the family to help police, fire personnel and other first responders to interact with kids and adults who have trouble communicating.

On a recent Monday the family, also including sons Colton and Preston, were at the Mankato Public Safety office where they delivered 33 bags they created that were purchased by the department to be carried in all police squads and fire vehicles.

While the bags contain things that help communicate with people with autism, they can be helpful for any occasion when people are having trouble communicating.

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“When Owen turns 18, he’s still going to be autistic and these bags can be used for adults,” Josh said.

Less than a year ago, the family started a small operation called Bit of Grace where they buy backpacks and items to put in them, doing all the work themselves from home. The “sensory emergency kits” cost them about $85 and they sell them for $100. They use any profits to donate bags to departments. They deliver the bags to departments themselves to save money.

Jennifer said they would like to get grants to expand the program but said so far donations and some sales have kept them going. People can go to their website and donate money, or buy bags to give to their local departments.

The couple said the bags purchased by Mankato were their largest delivery yet.

The Mankato department learned about the bags from one of their officers, Sgt. Jesse Gilbertson.

The Chans got some of the bags to the Sauk Rapids public safety department, near where they live and where Gilbertson grew up and where his mom lives. She saw a local story on the bags and bought three and sent them to Gilbertson. Others in the department saw their value and the Mankato Public Safety department decided to buy the 33 bags.

“We have daily contact with people with communication gaps,” Gilbertson said of the benefit of the bags.

The bags have items such as noise-reducing earmuffs, communication cards with pictures, a whiteboard and markers, plushies and stuffies, fidget gadgets, a sensory chew and more.

Owen said the things in the bags have helped him.

Jennifer said that while Owen is very talkative much of the time, when he becomes overstimulated he has problems communicating and the things they put in the bags help the whole family.

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