Foster parents association helps meet needs

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

For the Kids supplies children with clothes, Christmas toys

Foster parents never know when they will get a call for a child who needs a home.

It could be in the middle of the night, or in an emergency situation where they are given little to no notice to prepare, and the child often arrives with none of their clothing, supplies or toys.

"DFS may call and say, 'We have three kids that came in last night, and we need a twin bed, bassinet and diapers,'" said Virginia Gaston, president of For the Kids Foster/Adoptive Parents Association, a nonprofit organization which helps meet practical needs and basic necessities of foster children and families in Barry, Lawrence and Stone counties. "We also take care of kinship placements, such as when a grandparent suddenly gets three grandchildren she doesn't know she's going to get."

As an emergency foster parent placement who provides a home for children removed from emergency situations, and one who has adopted four children, Gaston understands the unique needs of foster children and parents, because she's been there.

"I've met police officers in different places, or gone to police stations or a hospital and picked up children, because I'm an emergency person, and a lot of times, a caseworker will bring them to you, depending on the circumstances," said Gaston, who said she usually takes a stuffed animal or soft blanket with her to comfort the child. "They're very frightened and scared. I try to take sibling sets so they don' get split up, but you can get one or four, it just depends on how soon they need to be out of the situation they're in, but to have the kids safe is really important."

An emergency placement can make the difference between life and death.

"A friend who adopted a child who was only 18 months old and had a broken arm," Gaston said. "The four children we adopted were living in a car, and one had missed so much school, they had lost a year's worth of schooling."

Foster parents receive a small stipend from the government, but it is not sufficient to help purchase all of the items needed to care for a child, said Gaston, which is why the organization was founded.

"I saw there was a need because I'm a foster parent," Gaston said. "It's a big need, but not many people are aware of it. The people that are [foster parents] don't get paid, they get a stipend, and it doesn't take care of the kids' needs, and most of them that are foster parents have a big heart but not a big pocketbook.

Gaston said the organization, going nearly 25 years strong, started out in a garage with just clothes, and it has grown from there.

"We decided we needed to save clothes because of kids coming in without any," she said.

When children are placed in a stable home environment where they are receiving consistent meals and their needs are met, they begin to improve, Gaston said.

"When kids are in care and have been there a month and eat decent food, they start gaining weight, which means they need more clothes," she said.

Gaston said buildings have been donated to the association to use over time, but its current building, which has nine rooms, is about to be outgrown. Each of those rooms hold items that all children need.

One is just for socks, underwear and shoes, another for pajamas, another for infant clothing and supplies such as diaper bags, blankets and bottles, another is a kitchen area with food and toiletries, and another has furniture such as beds.

But besides providing basic necessities, the association gives children security, which is just as important given their circumstances.

"It gives kids a sense of security, depending on when they come into care, "she said. "When a child comes here, he or she will often say, "We don't have to pay for these shoes? And I can take this toy with me?' Or, if they are removed from their home during Christmas time, they'll say, 'Santa Claus doesn't know where I'm at, what am I going to do?' So you have to give him the security that Santa Claus knows where they're at."

All parents can attest to just how much money it takes to care for and raise a child, but For the Kids does not charge foster parents for supplies.

"Nothing a foster parent gets here costs them anything," Gaston said. "We try to meet as many needs as we can for them."

The association also helps during Christmas with school supplies and in emergencies.

"At Christmas, we try to fill three wishes for each child," Gaston said. "When the Joplin tornado came through, we gave 50 kids a present for Christmas. And if there's a fire in the area, we try to assist with that."

It relies solely on monetary donations and helping hands to meet needs.

"We need volunteers to help sort things," Gaston said. "And people to donate new socks, underwear, gloves, hats, or to let us know about clearance sales. When seasons change and stores mark items down in spring, like coats and shoes, we get as many as we can."

For as long as the organization has been in existence, not many know about it or are aware of the unique needs and circumstances of foster children and parents, but she would like to see that change, and invites Barry Countians to join in to help meet those needs.

"The Seligman train ride has been a really big help, and this is the second year we've done that," she said of the holiday train ride sponsored through the Seligman Chamber of Commerce in which the organization receives proceeds from sponsorships.

For more information or to donate clothing, supplies, time or help facilitate a fundraiser, people may call Gaston at 417-229-2415, or Lynette Bailey, treasurer, at 417-489-7903. Gaston can also be reached by email at vlgaston@hotmail.com.

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