Did you know that when children go to live with a new family for foster care placement, it is sometimes with little more than the clothes on their backs? Perhaps they had only a few minute to toss belongings into a garbage bag as they are being shuffled out the door. Rarely is there an opportunity to carefully pack a bag of their best-loved belongings and outfits before they are taken to live in a new home.
Experienced foster Mom and founder of Foster Love Project, Kelly Hughes recognized this sad fact and knew it was wrong. Different kids will pick up on it to different degrees, but there is a unfortunate message sent when your belongings are transported via garbage bag. Her initial plan, the “project” part of Foster Love Project, was to try to do something about this (temporarily) for the agency that she had worked with when welcoming her foster children.
The plan was simple but profound: make sure the agency was supplied with bags to accompany a child when he or she was taken to live in a new home so that they would have something special, something of their own as they began a new life in a strange place. The packing instructions were as follows: Fill a bag (diaper or duffle) or backpack with these gender and age appropriate items.
- Pajamas (winter and summer)
- A book
- A stuffed animal
- A blanket
- A pack of socks
- A toothbrush & toothpaste
- Body wash and a scrubber
From the beginning, Kelly was able to collect over 1,300 bags in just two month time (after an initial goal of 300). It was obvious that the mission had struck a chord with people. Since then, just a couple of years later, the Project has taken off in a huge way. After outgrowing her living room, Foster Love Project is now located in some office space and storage rooms at the North Way Community Church in Dormont (2865 Espy Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15216).
Along with the number of bags, and supporters, the mission has grown as well. Now in addition to providing bags to be distributed at foster agencies around Western PA, they are also able to act as a distribution center for new or high-quality, gently-used items that foster children are likely to need. Foster families in need of clothing, books, diapers, car seats, and any number of other items are able to stop in at the Foster Love Project office to get supplies. Please check out their website and reach out if you are able to donate or if you have a need.
Foster Love Project actually hosts two large “drives” throughout the year. During the summer they conduct a gift card drive that can help foster families with clothing and school supplies for the back-to-school season. And right now, they are about to enter their primary push for collecting bags. Throughout the months of November and December, businesses, neighborhood groups, churches, clubs and generous volunteers of all sorts work together to collect and fill bags so local agencies are prepared with bags to go along with each child placed in a new home.
We’re really only scratching the surface of the ways that you could help. In addition to the website, you may want to take a look at their Facebook page for ideas that will inspire you to put a bag together or bring family and friends in to help sort donations in the clothing room. this is an organization that thrives because caring people have been willing to come alongside of Kelly Hughes’ vision and help in the hard work. The more people who can volunteer, the more that can donate, the more children here in the Pittsburgh area will be impacted for the better.