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United Way seeking donations to help foster kids

Community members can help foster children as part of a Heartland United Way donation drive.
The United Way is currently seeking donations of pillows, blankets, clothing and personal hygiene items to be placed in 300 duffel bags to be given to foster children in the agency’s service area as part of its Fostering Hope in the Heartland campaign.
Valerie Roth, director of community impact, said this is the first time United Way has had a donation drive to benefit foster children. She added the 300 duffel bags were purchased with a grant from the Grand Island Community Foundation.
“We heard that it was a need for foster kids to have a ‘forever bag’ for their items,” Roth said. “We work a lot of agencies that are either support foster families. A lot of foster kids leave their house with a plastic bag and do not really have any belongings if they have time to grab them. We got together with different agencies and created this donation drive.”
In May, which is Foster Care Awareness Month, Roth said the United Way will “do a really big push” for donation items by having collection boxes at various Grand Island locations.
“At the end of May, we will pick them up and sort everything,” she said. “In June, we will have a day for volunteers to come help sort everything. Some of them (agencies) want us to pre-stuff the bags and some of them want to just have the items and stuff the bags themselves. We will just have volunteers help sort the items.”
Roth said the United Way’s goal is to have enough donations for 300 duffel bags. However, she said the organization would like to get 400 duffel bags since there are roughly that many kids currently in court-involved cases in its service area.
“Some of the social workers talk about how some of these kids are removed in the middle of the night and do not have time to grab anything or there is nothing for them to take,” Roth said. “So, the social workers will have these bags in their truck ready to go when a kid comes into the system. All of the items will be spread out to all of our partners. Then, they will be given out as needed.”
Roth said the “forever bags” will have a profound impact on foster children. She added that oftentimes, they enter the foster care system with nothing to call their own. The bags give them an opportunity to have something to call their own and take with them.
“Sometimes, that is a burden on foster parents because they have to provide things for them,” Roth said. “If we can provide them with a bag that can go through life with them that’s great.”
People can donate items to the Fostering Hope in the Heartland campaign by dropping them off at the Heartland United Way office. Roth said monetary donations will also be accepted to go toward the cause.
“You have to put yourselves in these kids’ shoes. You are removed from this home you lived in with your family and are brought to a new location. Everything is new. What would you want in this situation?”
By Austin Koeller