Foster families' needs intensified during COVID crisis
Under stay-at-home orders, foster families across Oregon are experiencing new struggles. Some can't leave home, have a loss of income or a loss of childcare. The networks that usually fill those needs — such as schools, government agencies and nonprofits — are also under new strain due to the pandemic.
Every Child, an initiative of the nonprofit organization The Contingent, serves kids in foster care in 23 counties across Oregon, through a partnership with the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Its most recent campaign is an emergency response system called "My NeighbOR," which allows foster families and youth to request help while at the same time creating a space for people to provide that help. It connects the needs of some to the generosity of others.
Families with needs can submit a form detailing their contact information, items they are in need of and whether they can travel to pick up the items.
On the flip side, community members can fill out a form detailing how they'd like to help and if they can travel to deliver the item to one of Every Child's "anchor sites." People can donate items like household supplies, groceries, digital devices and gift cards or create a "flash box" of fun and useful supplies a foster family can use.
Brooke Gray, the executive director for mobilizing community at The Contingent, said Every Child coordinates with families who are able to pick up their items. The nonprofit Team Rubicon has partnered with Every Child to deliver items for families who are unable to travel.
"My NeighbOR will collect and ensure safe, healthy delivery of goods to families in need," Ben Sand, chief executive officer for The Contingent, said.
Gray said staff at Every Child knew they had to make a plan when people started contacting them about new needs.
"We were starting to get emails from DHS, foster families and foster youth reflecting basic needs," Gray said.
The team got together for a four-hour meeting Friday, March 20, and by the following Monday members were able to share their plan with DHS, foster families and other nonprofits.
In an Instagram announcement, Gray said 90% of the organization's staff would be redeployed to concentrate efforts towards My NeighbOR.
Gray said foster families are uniquely affected by the repercussions of this pandemic.
"When there is a health concern and when there is job loss or economic instability, that affects every Oregonian," Gray said. "When you have families who already are extending themselves ... that instability affects them even more."
Gray said it's not just current foster families that need this support. Youth who have aged out of the system need support too.
Gray recently talked with a foster youth in college who had to use all his savings to get an apartment for a month when his school's dorms closed. My NeighbOR is designed to help him as well, Gray said.
My NeighbOR was created to fill the gap between the increased need and the access to help.
Now in the third week of the emergency response, Every Child has received more than 400 requests for help and more than 1,000 sign-ups from the community to donate supplies.
"What's so beautiful about this is that everyone is still bringing what they can to the table," Gray said.
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