Foster Stitches clothing donation program serves foster families in Kandiyohi County area
WILLMAR — Becoming a licensed foster parent in the state of Minnesota takes a series of steps: prospective parents must undergo background checks, home visits, and foster care training before they can welcome foster children into their homes.
What these steps do not prepare foster parents for are children showing up to their doorsteps with only the clothing on their back, worried and scared after being separated from their families.
"Sometimes it's midnight, and you get a call saying they're bringing a child to your house and they have nothing. Just the clothes they're wearing."
Ashley Hanson, a mother of seven and licensed foster parent, recalled going through that kind of situation about two years ago, when a girl was dropped off at her doorstep as a crisis placement.
"(She) was just mortified that she was going to have to wear the same outfit to school the next day, because she had nothing. And she was probably around 11 or 10 years old, where kids would notice. She was like, 'I just wore this yesterday and they're going to notice,' and I just said, 'OK honey, we're going to get you something,'" Hanson said.
This scenario is not unfamiliar to other foster parents, as Tracy Dykshoorn, a mother of four, can attest to.
"These kids, from an emergency placement, normally it's a drug bust or a crisis of some sort, and with drug busts they don't want to bring anything along, because they don't know if it's contaminated," she said.
She said there might be one kid or four kids, and they may have nothing to bring.
"And a lot of times it's because they can't take anything from the scene or sometimes because parents won't cooperate," Dykshoorn said.
These unfortunate situations led Hanson and Dykshoorn to pair up and start collecting donations of clothing and shoes for foster families who would find themselves having to care for children who came to them with nothing.
They call their organization Foster Stitches.
Foster Stitches receives donations of clothing, shoes, and winter gear for foster children throughout the Kandiyohi County area. Hanson and Dykshoorn store all the donations in Dykshoorn's basement, giving them the ability to gather clothing at a moment's notice for fellow foster families in need.
"It's traumatic enough for these kids to come into a stranger's home with absolutely nothing, then to have to think about 'What am I going to wear tomorrow at school?' and 'What am I going to wear for the rest of the week?' They don't need to worry about that when they're worried about when they're going to see their mom again. The trauma, that is enough," Hanson said.
Dykshoorn agreed. "These poor kids are mortified that they're taken from their family to begin with, and then going to a stranger's home with nothing of their own," she said. "So when they come and need stuff, you go broke. You do whatever you have to, you charge it, because the kids need it. So you figure out a way to make it work and put them first."
Another issue foster families often face is delayed finances for the children they take into their home, which can put a significant strain on the family budget even if it's not a crisis placement.
"Foster parents aren't typically wealthy people — and so if you don't have the extra funds to go and get stuff for them, you have nothing. They don't send a check until the next month, or sometimes it's six weeks. So it's just hard," Hanson said.
The community has been supportive of the organization, responding to specific requests for donations on the Foster Stitches Facebook page whenever the need arises.
In 2016, Rice Memorial Hospital gave the group 12 gift baskets from 12 different departments in the hospital, providing some much needed necessities to foster children in the surrounding area.
Foster Stitches gives all these donations to foster families and social workers for free, operating primarily as a location to store clothing. If they had extra space, Hanson and Dykshoorn would love to be able to do more with their donations.
"Ideally we'd love a place where we could actually hang stuff up and let the kids come and shop on their own," Hanson said.
"We don't have the space for toys or even that many clothes right now, so to have someplace bigger to store our stuff is a possible next step," Dykshoorn said.
Donations are the best way to help Foster Stitches continue to provide necessities to children in the area.
"Our only real requirement is 'Would you put your own child in that?'" Hanson said.
"And honestly, if you're able, you can become a foster parent. Kids need good homes that will welcome them in in their time of need, so if you can foster kids, you should go through the training."
To stay updated on what Foster Stitches needs, visit fosterstitches.org.