How a simple backpack can help a foster child
COLUMBIA - Residents have an opportunity Sunday to give foster children something many don't have: belongings to call their own. The Columbia Adoption Project is providing empty backpacks for volunteers to fill up with essential items for a group of foster children.
One of the founders of Columbia Adoption Project, Kelly Myers, said, "Most children when they come into foster care, if they have anything to bring with them it may be a plastic bag of stuff."
The backpacks called iBelong Backpacks, will give the children some of the necessities and comfort items that they will need. Volunteers can spend less than $50 to fill the backpacks with items like socks, water bottles, or a blanket.
Volunteers can choose the age group and gender of the child they want to help from a list of tags. The tags have a suggested list of materials the child might need.
*Above: An example of a tag that describes the age and gender of the child and a list of materials you can buy for them.
Myers said the filled backpacks are worth more to the children than the cost of the goods inside.
"It gives them something to feel like they're bringing with them, that belongs to them," Myers said. "It also is a benefit to the foster parents because they may get a child and not have anything."
Foster parent Laura Pinkstaff, a board member of the Columbia Adoption Project, said she has seen how the backpacks have helped.
"I got to see one little girl, her foster parent brought her to my house and I gave her the backpack and she apparently opened it in the car and was just ecstatic," she said.
"It's something that's theirs. It's not borrowed, it's theirs," she said. "It's something good coming out of a horrific situation. It speaks something to them."
Pinkstaff said being a foster child is very difficult. "There's heartbreak in it and you see children that have been through trauma and you see brokenness, so much brokenness, and so much difficulty."
Pinkstaff is a mother of six, three of which are her biological children. She fosters three boys aged 3 months, 3 and 4. Her biological children are girls aged 6, 9 and 11.
"These kids need love and they need unconditional love," she said. "That's the greatest gift for them. I get hugs and kisses from six kids and three of them aren't my biological kids and I just love them."
Pinkstaff said there are challenges but it's been worth it.
"There's really hard days where I cry and you know, you mourn things, but there's really amazing days where you've taken little steps or big steps as a family and watched these children grow and your family grow," she said.
Pinkstaff said the most wonderful thing for her is when her foster children make huge strides.
"They come to you with no language and then they have language two years later," she said. "Or you get to see them make their first friend or the first moment where they see that you're safe and they trust you...to be that safe person in their life."
For her, she said it took a very long time.
"You have what it's called a honeymoon period," Pinkstaff said. "In two or three months that honeymoon period went away. There was a testing part where they want to test, ‘If I do this, will you still love me? If I do this, will you still keep me?'"
"It was a marathon of many promises that had to be kept," she said. "Even when difficult things happen or they misbehave that I still am going to care for you, I'm still going to love you and we are going to get through this."
"These are tough, hard times," she said, "but these children deserve someone to persevere in their life. They deserve to have someone to love them unconditionally."
Marie McGeehan, director of communications for Great Circle, said the reasons that a child comes into foster care vary.
"Some are abused or neglected in a home and are reported," said McGeehan. "The child is removed from their home and into custody."
From there, the child would have to wait for a placement or a temporary home.
Just in the 13th Circuit alone, Missouri Children's Division has reported a total of 443 foster children with only 41 foster homes. Since 2011, the number of foster children in Missouri has increased from 15,738 in 2011, to 17,154 in 2013.
Once the backpacks have been collected, the Columbia Adoption Project will distribute them to the Missouri Children's Division and Great Circle when they're notified of foster children that come in.
The backpacks can be dropped off at The Crossing Church on Sunday morning. Anyone interested in getting a backpack may contact Columbia Adoption Project at email@example.com.