When a child ends up in a situation in which they have to move on their own, whether to a foster home or to a permanent living situation, they often have social workers and court-appointed advocates looking out for their basic needs, such as food security and heath care.
But more often than not, some “non-essential” needs don’t get met, some as basic as having a bag to put their belongings in when they move to their new home.
That’s where Guardian Friends of Lewis County steps in.
“We as a group had thought for a really long time about children who had to move their belongings in trash bags,” said Barbara Kerschner, a volunteer with Guardian Friends, a nonprofit that raises money for items foster care kids need that aren’t covered by the state. As part of that mission, Guardian Friends runs a program they call Duffels of Love, which provides duffel bags to the Children’s and Family Services office in Centralia so that social workers can give them out to kids as needed.
“We want them to arrive with some dignity, and to have their things in a duffel bag, we thought maybe could help them,” Kerschner said. “Even though it’s a small thing, we thought we could give them the dignity of being able to arrive without looking like something the cat dragged in.”
The nonprofit, which Kerschner described as “minuscule” in size, usually raises a total of $4,000 to $5,000 per year, “and it goes out right away towards whatever needs the kids have,” she said. They’ve received grants and support from the Confederated Tribes of Chehalis, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office and the Twin Cities Rotary Club, but this year, Guardian Friends received their largest grant yet: $2,500 from TCC, a local Verizon affiliate, for the Duffels for Love program.
“That will enable us to continue for quite a while — we’re pretty excited about it,” Kerschner said.
So far, they’ve purchased 25 duffle bags from Willie’s Sport Shop in Centralia to donate to Children’s and Family Services, with plans to buy more once that initial supply is depleted.
Guardian Friends was started in 2008 by a group of Guardians ad Litem, court-appointed advocates who operate under the supervision of the Lewis County Dependency Court, after they looked through the state’s budget for that year and realized just how little money the state Department of Children, Youth and Families had available to cover “extra” expenses for foster kids.
The nonprofit operates with just eight volunteers who take requests from Guardians ad Litem and then put their heads together to make it happen.
“It’s really interesting the kinds of requests that we get,” Kerschner said. She recalled going to buy a camera off of Craigslist for a child who wanted to take a photography class and, when she told the seller who it was for, they gave Kerschner the camera for free with some extra lenses. “And that happens not infrequently,” she said.
Other past requests have included specialized counseling, tutoring, speech therapy and sports fees.
“We’re just trying to level the playing field for kids,” Kerschner said.
While the nonprofit is associated with Guardians ad Litem and primarily serves children in foster care, their services are open to kids outside of the system whose guardians are struggling financially.
For more information on Guardian Friends of Lewis County, visit https://www.facebook.com/GuardianFriendsofLewisCounty.