It Takes a Village
The Aberdeen Area Foster Closet is a local organization that has made supporting foster families its mission.

It Takes a Village

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Amanda Meyer, Louise Schwab, and Mary Keahey.

When Amanda Meyer and her husband received their first foster placement, there wasn’t time to prepare. It was early evening, and the children were coming into Meyer’s care without extra clothing or personal items. Instead of spending their first few hours together getting to know each other, Meyer felt rushed to secure the basic items the children would need.

Looking back, it wasn’t how Meyer hoped the experience would go – but it sparked the idea to create the Aberdeen Area Foster Closet, an organization that provides multiple levels of support for foster families.

“I wish we could have gone home, sat down for supper, showed the children our home and answered any questions they might have had,” Meyer said. “I truly hope the Foster Closet can prevent any other families from having to go through that experience as their first with a placement.”

Less than two years later, in an overflowing storage space in New Life Fellowship’s downtown campus, the Aberdeen Area Foster Closet is busting at the seams. For the young organization, it’s a good problem to have. It means the word is getting out, and the Foster Closet can provide more resources to area foster families.

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Members of Aldersgate Church have volunteered at various agencies around town, including the Foster Closet.

The Foster Closet focuses on both physical donations for foster families, as well as ongoing support. Louise Schwab, who co-founded the organization with Meyer, was struck when she learned that nearly half of all foster families quit within the first year due to lack of support. She hopes the Foster Closet can help wrap around foster families and provide the support and encouragement to continue.

One of the organization’s main objectives is supplying 48-hour kits for foster families. The kits include items children might need for the first few days in a new placement, allowing families to focus on adjusting and getting to know each other.

Each kit includes a duffel bag or backpack, several outfits, pajamas, personal hygiene items, a comfort like a blanket or stuffed animal, and for younger children, items like diapers and bottles. The Foster Closet has provided 90 kits to Department of Social Services offices in Aberdeen and Mobridge so far, and they’re working to branch out to more offices. DSS helps distribute the kits to families when making emergency placements.

Families can also reach out to the Foster Closet directly with ongoing needs. Thanks to donations, the Foster Closet can also help secure items like toddler beds, toys, winter gear and even Halloween costumes. If families need items the closet doesn’t have on hand, the organization makes a direct appeal to followers on Facebook. Community members have been happy to help.

Outside of donations, the Foster Closet is ramping up its network of volunteers to wrap around foster families. WRAP teams (words of affirmation, respite care, acts of service, prayer) include 4-6 volunteers who commit to supporting a foster family for several months. The Foster Closet helps facilitate the WRAP team’s initial meeting, encouraging connection and training.

This all-in approach has sparked some new ideas to help families, like birthday kits. The Foster Closet recently started packing birthday boxes for children in foster care, with homemade cards, cake mix, and a wrapped toy. It’s another way to show children in foster care they’re loved and celebrated.

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Target employees volunteer with the Aberdeen Area Foster Closet

The Foster Closet also has its eye on giving foster families much-needed respite care. They’ve started a Parents Night Out event, to give families a break for a few hours while volunteers step in to help care for the children. These services are vital for area foster families.

“The volunteers at the Aberdeen Area Foster Closet assist with WRAP support services, prepare meals for families, and assist families with a variety of different needs including laundry,” said Department of Social Services Cabinet Secretary Matt Althoff. “Foster parents have reported that the Foster Closet’s generosity and support have allowed them to focus on providing a safe and nurturing home to the children placed in their care.”

To continue building on their mission, the Foster Closet now faces two challenges: finding a larger physical space and recruiting volunteers. Volunteers are needed for everything from inventorying donations, building 48-hour kits, wrapping gifts for birthday gifts to serving on WRAP teams.

“Our next step as a Foster Closet is defining who we want to be and what we want to do. We need more volunteers to accomplish all of that, and I do think Aberdeen can support that,” Schwab said. “When we’ve had immediate needs for families, the community has always stepped up.”

Of course, the Foster Closet volunteers are always willing to talk to anyone considering becoming a foster family. The need is broad; more than 1,000 children entered foster care last year in South Dakota, and there are only a little more than 800 licensed foster homes across the state.

“Ultimately I want foster parents to feel like they have someone in their corner, supporting and cheering them on,” Mayer said. “I would love it if more people would be open to becoming foster parents as a result of the Foster Closet.” //

Follow the Aberdeen Area Foster Closet on Facebook for more volunteer and donation opportunities.

Ways to help:

  • Join a WRAP team
  • Help pack 48-hour kits
  • Make birthday cards, wrap gifts and pack birthday kits
  • Volunteer to inventory donations
  • Help provide meals for foster families