Women’s Fund Tours Foster Stitches Store
On March 15th, the Women’s Fund Steering Committee had an opportunity to tour the Foster Stitches store. Foster Stitches is a place where kids removed from their homes and placed in foster care can shop locally for clothes and shoes. According to Ashley Hanson, a foster mom who helped Foster Stitches become a reality, "Most children or youth who have been removed from a home typically leave without any personal belongings."
The group toured the 1,800 sq. foot building that houses racks of kids' clothing, shoes, a staging area, backpacks, bags, toys, toiletry items, storage tubs for off-season and extra clothing, and space for small kids to hang out.
Tagged clothes are organized by size and gender on racks throughout the store. The store supports the 57 licensed foster care families in Kandiyohi County. When kids go into placement, they usually have no access to their personal belongings and a lot of times come with nothing.
What’s the biggest benefit you’ve seen with the store?
It’s giving these kids control of something in their lives and allowing them to pick the clothing they want instead of us picking it. We want to provide them with a "normal" shopping experience where they can find things they like, try them on, and take something with them that they love and feel good in.
"The size and layout of the store are helpful. We know what we have and need. We can inform the community via Facebook page when we have a need. Donations used to all be in storage bins prior to Foster Stitches. We’ve seen those supportive adults of foster children with tears of joy and appreciation as they leave the store with a suitcase of clothing for the kiddos.
We have a fantastic community. This journey to launch the store has been remarkable, and we thank the Women’s Fund and the Willmar Area Community Foundation for being such a big part of it. It’s rewarding to see how the store is needed in our community. This project is all about the kids and their foster care families, and it’s also about supporting the social workers in Kandiyohi County. Family members get the same benefits as foster care families. Biological parents can also shop in the store if they have an open case.”
- Ashley Hanson – a licensed foster mom.
What’s new with the store?
After hearing the Foster Stitches story at the WACF Gala, for whom West Central Industries (WCI) was a sponsor. WCI approached WACF Executive Director Sara Carlson for an introduction to Ashley Hanson as they wanted to support the cause with the donation of a computer. The computer donation allows Foster Stitches to track donated clothing, the families that shop at the store, and referrals from social workers.
Gift cards help fill gaps in needed donations
If you follow Foster Stitches Facebook page, you will know when they need items. Sometimes there are needs above and beyond what is donated. For example, six teenage boys visited the store, and they could fill all of their clothing needs except for a size 13 tennis shoe. Since they could not assist with that need, they were able to provide the teen with a gift card to purchase the appropriate size shoes. They have found that gift cards fill a gap and give the children the ability to buy the size items they need. For example, sometimes, there is an abundance of specific sizes of underwear and socks and a limited of other sizes. The gift cards are a great way to let foster children purchase their underwear and socks.
What tasks do your volunteers work on?
They sort clothes, organize clothing, recycle, and add size tags to each garment as donations come in. The best way to reach Foster Stitches is via our Facebook page. Hanson explained that they had 7 to 9 volunteers help with the sorting, organizing, and washing clothes. One volunteer messages me weekly asking if she can assist.
Are there any other dreams for Foster Stitches?
We’re so excited that the vision of the Foster Stitches store is now a reality in Kandiyohi County. We’ll continue to improve, such as the tracking of foster family visits and referrals. We are working on a system to size and tag all clothing items, and keeping our supporters up to date with Facebook posts is a priority.
In Minnesota, once a person turns 21, they are no longer eligible for foster care, with some leaving as early age 18. There is 600-800 youth that age out yearly. It is estimated that 20% of foster youth who age out become homeless. Transitional housing for those youth does exist, but they are typically homeless before they find transitional housing. We have been learning more about Foster Care Transition Program, which provides affordable housing and support for youth who have aged out yet still need support. They help the youth navigate the transition, so they
are never actually homeless. We have planted the seed and hope the idea grows here in Kandiyohi County, not just in the metro area.
How does the Women’s Fund trauma informed care grants help foster families?
Whether they come into a foster home at birth or as a teenager, we know that adoption is a traumatic experience. Everyone needs to understand foster children and learn how to take care of them. No two cases are alike. The trauma informed care grants help educate the workforce and members of our community. Foster children are often misunderstood and sometimes seen as having behavioral problems. Our foster youth have significant needs from schooling to social
interaction to healthcare.
In partnership with the Willmar Area Community Foundation, the Willmar Area Women's Fund has assisted Foster Stitches in securing over $20,000 to cover their rent for the first two years of operations.