the facebook group: FAQs

Recently, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first three posts here.

What is this Facebook group you speak of?
In September 2015, some friends of mine (Jenny and Elizabeth) were opening a foster pantry (read all the details here!) and I offered to try out some online fundraising to get some needed items stocked. 24 hours later, nearly $2000 had been raised. On Facebook. It was clear that momentum had built and that people were eager to do more to serve foster/adopt/kinship families, so I started a Facebook group to share ongoing needs.

What goes on in there?
– Raising money for foster pantry items
When Jenny or Elizabeth lets me know about an item that needs to be restocked in the foster pantry, I head to the Facebook group and do some fundraising. Depending on how things are going with people donated used items, sometimes we’ll decide to wait and do a big fundraiser for several items a few times a year. At times, we also learn of families who are at risk for CPS-intervention because of insecure housing who have obtained an apartment but have no furnishings, and we’ll do fundraisers for that as well.

The fundraisers, frankly, look a lot like me posting incessantly and convincing people that even giving $2 makes a difference. I’m silly, loud, and pep rally-ish, and people give either because they love it or because they want me to be quiet. I’m cool with either.

Here are some sample posts from fundraisers!

– Meal calendars
We regularly post meal calendars (favorite site is Meal Train) where people can directly sign up to take a meal to a family, post in the comments that they can cook but not deliver (or vice versa) and look for a partner, be prompted to donate toward take out, or sign up to cook and deliver a meal that they’ll be reimbursed for through our Monthly Meals program (post to come). Those posts look like this.

– Promoting adoption fundraisers
– Posting information on classes for becoming a certified foster babysitter
– Offering items that are no longer needed to other families
– Coordinating rides, pick-up/drop-off of items, etc.

How could I start a Facebook group?
– Talk to local foster/adoptive families and/or CPS workers to determine what would be truly supportive in your community and determine if a FB group could be a part of it.

– Consider if you want to be responsible for running the group, if you’d like to do it with a group of friends, or if you’re not comfortable with/capable of posting regularly, etc. Who do you know that may be?

– Get very familiar with unsplash.com. Unsplash has a great selection of free stock photos that I use constantly when posting meal calendars, a request for a ride or delivery, etc. Pictures make a huge difference in visibility and interaction on Facebook.

– Whoever is in charge of this little corner of the Internet must be comfortable posting frequently when the need warrants it. When there isn’t a pressing need, go quiet. When there is, or when it’s time to do a fundraiser, go crazy! The more excited you are, the more momentum builds.

– PayPal and Venmo make it easy for people to give, as well as offering the option for checks to be sent.

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I’m here for you! Comment with questions or shoot me an email.

the foster pantry: FAQs

Last week, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first post here, and the second post here.

What is the foster pantry?

Though it has “foster” in the title, the pantry also serves adoptive and kinship placement families, as well as families at risk for CPS intervention. The pantry is filled with clothes, car seats, strollers, baby swings, diapers, toys, toiletries, and more, all available at no cost to the families.

How did the foster pantry get started?

A few years ago, my friends Elizabeth Carter and Jenny Closner began dreaming about opening a foster pantry through a foster and adoption support group called Faithful to the Fatherless. When Elizabeth lived elsewhere, her church started one, and she had seen firsthand how helpful it was to families.

Elizabeth (a foster and adoptive mom), and Jenny (an adoptive mom), prayed about the pantry and eventually a family in our church provided space for it in a small side building on their property. The pantry now shares a storage unit space with another ministry of our church. The items all come through donations.

Who runs it?

Elizabeth and Jenny are the primary contacts, and a few other volunteers have keys for meeting families at the pantry to go shopping.

Why is the pantry needed?

Very often, foster families receive a phone call just a few hours before a child is coming into their home. CPS interventions vary widely, and children are often in immediate need of a place to spend the night tonight.

Imagine that you are going about your day and suddenly the phone rings with a placement opportunity. How comforting to know that your next phone call can be to set up an appointment at a pantry that is stocked with the items you’ll need for this new season of your life!

The pantry is also open to families who are adopting, as they are often facing major costs. We want to celebrate the bringing of a child into a home, whether temporarily or permanently. So, the same way that we throw baby showers for friends who are pregnant (even when they have the ability to buy some items themselves), we want to show our support through the pantry.

Don’t foster families get reimbursed by the state? Don’t the kids bring things with them?

The pantry primarily provides items immediately needed at the time of placement (as opposed to ongoing needs months after a child has been placed, though we are happy for families to trade out clothing sizes, for example).

Foster parents are reimbursed by the state, but the reimbursements take a while to come in, and they’re not a high amount.

Children often come with nothing, or maybe a few belongings in a trash bag. So, for example, if the child is a baby, immediate needs would include a car seat, stroller, bottles, etc. – items that add up very quickly and can’t wait to be purchased when the reimbursement comes. The pantry removes the stress of those large initial costs.

How do families learn about the pantry?

Many of the foster and adoptive families in our community are a part of the Faithful to the Fatherless, so the word spreads easily there. Jenny and Elizabeth also have good relationships with caseworkers at our local CPS office who inform foster families that the pantry is available to them.

How do families set up an appointment?

Foster parents (and sometimes caseworkers) call Elizabeth or Jenny who arrange a time to meet the parent at the pantry. Sometimes, if the child is coming right this minute, a volunteer will go gather items for the family and deliver them. Ideally, though, the parent gets to shop and choose things they especially like and need.

How much can families take? How do you know you’re not being taken advantage of?

The vast majority of the time, Elizabeth and Jenny are imploring foster parents to take more. Rarely, almost never, have they felt that the pantry was taken advantage of.

In general, foster families are so thankful and overwhelmed by the offer of assistance during those crazy first days of transition that they restrain themselves a great deal when choosing items. (So Elizabeth and Jenny just add things to their bags :).)

Faithful to the Fatherless wants to steward donations well while honoring the dignity of each foster parent and child by giving generously and not being trapped by the fear of misuse. There will be times when the pantry or items from it are misused. But overall, abundant giving has been reciprocated with abundant gratitude.

Families are never expected to return the items that they take, though we’re certainly happy to take back items that are no longer needed (a crib, for example). The foster families are also encouraged to send items with foster children who leave their care to wherever they are going.

If resources were limited, it would be easy to come up with a checklist that is given to the foster parent (x number of outfits, etc.) to refer to as he or she shops.

How do you solicit donations?

When the pantry first opened, Jenny and Elizabeth spread the word through Faithful to the Fatherless and on social media that excellent used condition (this is really important – we want the families to receive items that communicate dignity) clothes and items were needed. Our community stepped up to the plate big time with clothes, and by the time I made it to the drop-off day, the only things still needed were bigger items like car seats and strollers.

I suggested to Jenny that I post on Facebook and see if anyone wanted to contribute toward the “grand opening” of the pantry. 24 hours later, the wild world of Facebook had blown me away by raising around $2000 toward needed items (read about it here).

Building on the momentum of that fundraiser, I started a Facebook group where supporters of Faithful to the Fatherless could stay in touch with ongoing needs. I’ll do a separate post on the Facebook group, but for now, it’s where we share a lot of information about items that are needed and fundraise for them.

How could I do something like this in my community?

You’ll need:

Space, which could be as small as part of someone’s garage (maybe with attic space for car seats, etc.), or as large as a storage unit. You may start small and get bigger! Ideally, the space needs to be accessible by multiple volunteers who will have keys to take families shopping, so keep that in mind as you’re considering spaces (aka do you want to give 4 people keys to your garage?).

Volunteers to maintain inventory, fundraise/solicit used items, meet families at the pantry. Time commitments will vary based on the size of your city’s foster/adopt needs and how often new placements are made (you could learn this by contacting your local CPS office). Jenny and Elizabeth average about 3-5 hours per week meeting families at the pantry and maintaining inventory, and I average around the same with raising money for needed items, etc.

Keep in mind that this is an average. Some weeks, Elizabeth, Jenny, and/or I may spend 15 hours on the pantry, some weeks none at all. Largely, this is because some weeks the community may have no new placements, and some weeks it may have 10.

If you’re limited on volunteers/time, you could have a schedule of weekly availability for each volunteer and only allow appointments during those times. A lot of this will depend on season of life/other commitments for your volunteers, so I encourage you to all be very honest with each other about your schedules/capacity and set up the pantry in a way that will be sustainable for your volunteers.

Set up a clear line of communication between the people who are hands on at the pantry taking families shopping and maintaining inventory, and the person or people who fundraise for needed items. In our case, Jenny or Elizabeth will send me a text of what’s running low and I’ll get to work hassling people on Facebook for baby swings. Talk through it with your people to see what works and helps everyone stay on the same page.

A connection to foster families so they can learn about the pantry, such as an existing ministry or the local CPS office

A strategy for soliciting donations of new and/or excellent used condition items (post to come on some of our fundraising tips and tricks)

You may want:

A Facebook group (post to come!)

Someone who is comfortable manically posting in said Facebook group to solicit donations (in our case, this is me)
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I am here for you as you determine if this is something your church, community group, or friends could get started. Please feel free to comment on this post or contact me with any questions!

Orphan Care: Calling and Creativity

Last week, I announced a new series on supporting foster and adoptive families. You can find the first post here.

For this series to be helpful to you, we’re going to need to be on the same page about something: orphan care is for everyone. Extra bedrooms or not, disposable income or not, specific spiritual gifting/love for children/heart for the marginalized or not, orphan care is for you, both in terms of calling and creativity. Let’s explore that a bit.

Calling
Scripture is explicit that, for the Christian, caring for widows and orphans is a mandate. At the time those words were written, widows and orphans were some of the most vulnerable members of society, and in many ways, this remains true. In America, the orphans who are often the nearest to us are children in foster care.

According to Children’s Rights, “on any given day, there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2015, over 670,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care.

Hundreds of thousands of children, right here at home, are undergoing the traumatic event of being removed from their families of origin and are in need of love and safety. For many people, the best way to respond to this reality is to become a licensed foster parent. If you are maybe-a-little-tiny-itty-bitty-Abby-I-kind-of-want-to-slap-you-because-you’re-making-me think-about-this level of interested in pursuing a foster care license, I highly commend my friend, and author, speaker, and foster/adoption advocate, Jason Johnson, to you. His blog will be a gift as you pray through God’s call on your life as it pertains to orphan care.

For those who cannot pursue a foster care license right now, or who are praying through it but want to begin moving toward the foster/adopt world in the meantime, I want to help us answer this question: for those of us who believe that we are both called to care for orphans and that we cannot bring foster children into our homes today, what can we do?

Creativity
Here’s a truth about God that I can’t get over: He never leaves us ill-equipped for that which He has called us to fulfill. Since God has called us to care for orphans, there must be ways in our lives right now that we can do so.

It may very well be the case that our lives will need to adjust or be reprioritized so that we can follow God’s call. Oftentimes, what’s required of us will include sacrifice. But, we are not locked into lives incapable of accommodating some form of orphan care. The God of the universe has placed this calling on our lives, and He has set His Spirit, with great creativity and passion, within us as we seek to obey.

As you begin to think creatively about engaging orphan care, keep the imagery of the body of Christ in mind. Everyone plays a part, right? No part more valuable than the other? So, consider what body part, building block or concentric circle you may be a part of.

In the case of foster care, the center of the circle is the foster child (or the child being adopted, or the family at risk for losing their children to foster care, etc.). The circle just outside of him or her is the foster family. Just outside of them are case workers, CASA advocates, etc. Then extended family and close friends, then their church community, then the community at large, and so on.

Consider where you fit right at this moment. Do you know anyone who is fostering or adopting? Do you know anyone whose financial or family circumstances may be putting their children at risk for being taken into care? Think about your workplace, child’s school, church, neighborhood, city buildings you drive past, and community’s services.

You do have a place to start. It may be a call to your church to ask if anyone in the congregation fosters, adopts, works with families at risk for removal, or is involved with those who do/are. It may be an appointment with the local CPS office to see what the pressing needs are. Send an email or make a phone call. Move toward one person, just to get to know their story. 

So, about the next post: One way that God’s call to care for the orphan intersected with my life at an unexpected time was through our community’s foster pantry. Next week, I’ll write about what it is, how it was started, and the logistical details in a way that will help you figure out if something similar may be doable in your community. Please comment with any questions about how the pantry works and I’ll make sure to address them!

With joy,

Abby

P.S. Want to do some further research in the meantime?

And Then There Were Five by Emily Attaway for Respite Redefined
Wrapping around Foster and Adoptive Families by Jason Johnson
Three Things Foster Parents Don’t Have to Be by Jason Johnson
Pure and Undefiled Religion by Jared Perry (a sermon my husband gave last year)

on serving foster & adoptive families. 

When Jared was in seminary and we were just beginning our journey into parenthood, I was overwhelmed with a desire to foster and/or adopt. We met with friends who were licensed, who were welcoming children and filling out paperwork and attending classes, and we decided to work toward our fostering certification once Jared graduated. In May 2014, we became licensed, and over the summer we cared for two sets of siblings for a long weekend each (known as respite care).

After Gabriel was born and the unknowns of his medical needs stacked high, it became clear that our plans for foster care needed to shift. Nothing, not one thing, about our passion for the orphan shifted, but our circumstances required that passion to manifest differently.

By God’s grace, our church and community made possible creative ways for us to engage. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a series of blog posts with ideas for supporting foster, adoptive, and kinship placement families. If you’ve ever felt like there’s only a binary between fostering/adopting or not actively engaging orphan care, if you’ve never thought about orphan care before, or if you’re itching to rally your community around supporting children (and their immediate caregivers), this series is for you.

I plan to explain the ins and outs of:

  • The concentric circles of care for children and families
  • Our community’s “foster pantry”
  • The Facebook group where we share needs
  • Programs for providing meals when families welcome new children
  • How we help families at risk for Child Protective Services intervention stay together
  • Ways we support teens aging out of care

I would love to know if there are other topics related to supporting foster, adoptive, kinship, or otherwise CPS-adjacent families you’d like for me to address. You can on this post, send me an email, or come find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. This series exists entirely to illustrate what has worked in our community so that you are informed and inspired to try similar things right where you are.

So, what are the barriers you perceive in your community when it comes to effective orphan care?

What feels unknown or scary or intimidating?

Most simply, what can I share that may help you take a step forward?

I’m delighted to start this conversation with each of you!

With joy,

Abby