Foster Family Event fills backpacks, raises awareness




It’s that time of year again, the time when parents brace themselves—and their wallets—for back-to-school shopping. New notebooks and pencils alone won’t suffice, so eight churches (three of them UMCs) in Brevard County decided to pitch in and host the Foster Family Event Aug. 5, held at New Covenant Fellowship Church.

The recent Foster Family Event, held in Brevard County, brought eight churches together to help raise awareness about the needs of adoptive parents and their children. Backpacks were filled with supplies for the new school year.

Churches participated with donations and volunteers and worked in connection with the Foster Care Task Force of the North Brevard Coalition of Human Services. The group ended up serving about 10 families with 20 to 25 children, giving every child—infant to teen—gift cards for shoes and other items. Local foster children and their adoptive parents came for fun, refreshments and all the things they needed to get them off to a good school year.

“They had everything,” said foster parent B.J. Thorne of Mims, Florida. She attended the event with her three girls, aged 5, 8 and 9. “My girls got clothes, school supplies, shoes and gift cards, and my 8-year-old Emily wanted a Bible, and she got one, too,” said Thorne, who has been a foster parent for 11 years.

Jennifer Taylor, who is Outreach and Missions Leader at Indian River City UMC, leads the task force, which has spent at least two years raising awareness about the critical need for foster parents in the northern part of a county that stretches 72 miles along the coast. She explained that supporting foster children in care is difficult if they become separated from their families, schools and friends by miles. But since there are more foster parents in the south of the county, that is where they are more likely to go.

“There has been a great need for 20 plus years for more homes in the north of the county,” Taylor said. Supporting the current parents and recruiting new ones is important, so churches joined the effort wholeheartedly with monetary donations for gift cards, fully stocked backpacks, clothes and shoes.

Churches participating along with New Covenant included: First Christian Church, Indian River City UMC, Mims UMC, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, St. Andrew UMC, St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church and Great Outdoors Community Church.

Clothing for every age group was donated, along with shoes, gift cards and other items. The Aug. event also included a bounce house, pizza, free haircuts and face painting.

St. Gabriel’s Marie Hunsaker said that even with a relatively small window for planning and executing the event, her church pulled lots of resources together and came up with generous donations of money and other items.

Brienne Robertson from New Covenant FC has been involved with Taylor in back-to- school events for eight years, securing supplies and clothes for nearby Title I elementary schools. The churches decided to focus this year’s back-to-school push on foster families.

The August event was held outdoors with a bounce house, pizza, haircuts and face painting. Clothes and supplies were arranged in the sanctuary. Robertson said it was just one way of showing love for existing foster families located in North Brevard.

“We are a small church, but we have a lot of outside space, and we’re in an area where foster families are much needed. We wanted to show this great need for people to volunteer (as foster parents),” she said.

Rev. John Gill, pastor at Mims UMC, is a former community development coordinator for the foster care ministry at The Florida United Methodist Children’s Home. He tries to spread the word about the need for adoptive parents and to encourage others to become involved, as well. His church has a clothes closet which supplied gently used clothing for the event. He connects with other pastors in the area to raise awareness with the county’s UMC churches in the Atlantic Central district about the need for foster parents.

“It was a nice event with the parents and children invited to take what they needed to get their school years off to a good start,” said Gill, adding it is also important for churches to partner in ongoing relationship-building with secular agencies which administer the care of foster children.

“The people who put this event on were motivated by their faith. It’s not recognized as a ministry as such, but the faith community is key to raising awareness and recruiting foster parents,” Gill said.

The event was promoted through word-of-mouth and with the cooperation of a local agency, Brevard Family Partnership.

“There is a crisis situation in Florida with children from 4 or 5 months old up to 17 years. We need more foster parents, and we need to help the ones we have. The need will only get greater down the road. But we’ve got to start somewhere,” Taylor said.

In describing her church’s involvement in the quest to interest people in becoming foster parents or learning more about it, Taylor said: “We understood that we needed to make our outreach more personalized, so we wanted to be in contact with the parents we have. We wanted to show them appreciation for the job they are doing. They are people who are giving of themselves to help other people.”

Foster parent Thorne said she felt the love that day. “They were wonderful. They went all-out for these kids. They had everything we needed.”

--Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.


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