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Renovations to clothing closet will give children a temporary home

Renovations to clothing closet will give children a temporary home

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When children enter the foster care system, they might not have much with them. In some cases, the only clothes they have are the ones on their backs. That’s when the Foster CARE Closet steps in to help.

The goal of the Closet is “to provide the children with compassion and dignity as they come into the foster care,” Tracy Jones, the Scottsbluff Closet’s on-site manager, said. “We would supply them with a wardrobe and get them set up so they can go into their home and be able to put their belongings into their new space.”

Every so often, the children can browse through a large selection of all types of clothing. There are different sections for boys and girls, each divided by age.

Jones said the Closet partners with the state’s Dept. of Health and Human Services for the majority of their clothing. “The extra stuff is what we depend on for donations from the community, (like) backpacks, blankets, toys; hygiene products from teenagers to babies; hats and gloves, coats...”

Donations usually arrive on a weekly basis. People can call or contact her via Facebook to set up delivery times. The Closet accepts new clothes for the most part, although clothes which have barely been used are also acceptable donations. Whichever items aren’t used is put back into the community for people to take as they see fit.

Jones said new intakes are the Closet’s priority, to treat them with dignity as soon as possible. “We try to serve them as quickly as we can because we are aware that some of them come in with nothing or an empty trash bag,” she said.

Clothing, toys and supplies aren’t all the Closet has to offer. Part of the facility is undergoing a transformation. Furniture and appliances are being added to turn the back of the Closet into what the organization calls a ‘haven.’

The havens are designed to be just that. “Instead of the kiddos being in a car or a cubicle, they’re able to freely relax,” Jones said. The kids will have a space to sit down and relax, to watch TV and read a book or play with toys. They’d also be able to make themselves a meal or have some snacks. These all serve as distractions from traumatic conversations foster care specialists might be having about where to place them.

Jones estimated the haven will be able to host as many as eight kids, depending on their ages. They would be able to stay for as little as a few hours to as long as a few weeks, if need be.

There are five Foster CARE Closets across Nebraska. Besides Scottsbluff, they are located in Lincoln, North Platte, Kearney and Beatrice. Currently, only the Lincoln and North Platte locations have functioning haven sites. Those are “running at full throttle,” Jones said. She expects the Scottsbluff haven to be up and running in approximately a year.

In the meantime, the facility is continuing to operate its closet for the children who need it. Jones estimated the Scottsbluff location serves an average of 80 to 90 children per year. These would include both first-time and seasonal shoppers, from babies up to age 19.

However, ever since the coronavirus pandemic began, the closet has served twice as many children as they had beforehand. “The case workers weren’t able to get into their homes at that time...and when COVID released, then the case workers were able to get into the homes and were able to help those kids,” Jones said.

Lori Bennett is a foster parent who also works as a foster care specialist with St. Francis Ministries. She said the Closet primarily serves foster kids who are state wards. She said the Closets alleviate stress for parents who might be concerned about where to get clothes for their foster children. People might think it’s a used clothing store when they first hear about it, but she said that’s far from the case.

“We used it (the Closet) for probably about a year I’d say,” foster parent Susan Shaffer said. Her granddaughter was put into her care due to drug use and spousal abuse at her parents’ home. “It was hard for me and my husband to get clothes, so it was a blessing to get to the closet to provide for her...some of us foster parents, the little bit of money we receive goes to other things, so it was nice to get her blankets and new shoes and outfits.”

The founders of the Foster CARE Closets, Jones said, have the goal of eventually expanding it nationwide. Until then, they’ll focus their efforts on making sure Nebraska’s foster kids are cared for.

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Christopher Borro is a reporter at the Star-Herald. He can be reached at email at christopher.borro@starherald.com.

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