TUPELO • The Refuge foster care closet at Northstar Church has adjusted to the challenge of continuing to help foster families amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s still kids in foster care and kids coming into foster care no matter what’s going on in the world, and there’s always a need,” said Director Katie Gann. “Kids from neglect and it’s not necessarily their fault, but we just always want to be able to provide for them.”
The foster care closet provides summer and winter clothes for ages zero to 18, shoes, diapers, wipes, and furniture needs such as baby and toddler beds. Occasionally, they provide financial needs for families via gift cards for certain needs, such as if families need formula or require different clothes than those donated.
The Refuge didn’t consider closing because they knew social workers were essential workers and would also still need resources for their foster families.
“We felt like if they’re essential, we’re still needed to be able to provide for them,” Gann said.
The Refuge has 10 volunteers to be available to take calls from social workers for any needs. The organization keeps a phone specifically to take special calls, and volunteers swap weeks when they can take calls. Gann said they will continue doing that to filter the need. Gann said they typically receive one call a day from social workers for referrals.
The organization has continued assisting two to three families a week on average. The need has remained steady, with the most consistent needs being clothing and furniture for families who had taken in extra children and required a bed immediately. Since the pandemic started, Gann hasn’t seen an increased number of families, but said the first few weeks were busier due to children not being at school. She has seen an increase in requests for furniture, diapers and baby wipes.
“(Diapers and wipes have) been big through this because sometimes the foster families couldn’t find diapers or wipes because the stores have been wiped out, so they’ve called us. We’ve had enough, but I’m afraid we’re getting low,” Gann said.
It has been a challenge adjusting services to continue helping families while maintaining safety, Gann said. Instead of having families come to the care closet to pick up donations, they instead coordinate pick up spots with social workers and occasionally schedule porch drop offs for families. They had to pause their monthly drop off donation nights, when people are encouraged to come by the church and donate items, for safety concerns. Since the organization relies on community donations, Gann worried they would run out of items, but she said they have been able to use their current inventory of past donations, purchase items and find other donations throughout the community as needed.
Gann anticipates resuming donation drop off nights Aug. 11, but said they will be occurring with less frequency. They typically have 25 volunteers to sort clothes and see an average of 30 people complete drop offs. Now, they plan to use a smaller number of volunteers. On Aug. 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., donations can be dropped off at the door, and volunteers will bring them back to sort. While The Refuge is not currently accepting donations, she requests that people continue donating once they are open, especially diapers and wipes.
“No matter what the rest of 2020 wants to throw this way, the virus didn’t stop the need for helping people, and I don’t think anything ever will,” Gann said. “I know these foster parents appreciate anything that this closet can give them, so whatever way we have to figure out how to do it, we’ll make it happen.”
More information can be found on The Refuge’s Facebook page @therefugetupelo, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 662-869-7778.