From pacifiers for babies to toothbrushes and combs for older children, the Collective Closet, operated by a new nonprofit, faith-based organization, is stocked with supplies to help fostering, adoptive and kinship families meet the needs of children.
Shelves of the Collective Closet, which occupies a metal building behind a medical office at 403 Texas Highway 110 in Whitehouse, are stocked with items that families would need when starting out serving as foster or adoptive families or as kinship families composed of relatives other than parents caring for children.
It is a project of the Fostering Collective, an organization that partners with many churches around Tyler and Longview to support foster and adoptive families as well as kinship families.
Besides helping families already fostering children, the Fostering Collective also recruits new families willing to foster or adopt children. It has connections with about a dozen child placement agencies, including Arrow, Methodist Children’s Home, Christian Homes, Upbring, Buckner and the Department of Family and Protective Services.
Everything in the Collective Closet is free to first-time foster families in Smith County and within a 45-mile radius outside of the county. Recipients of items from the Closet must have a license from Child Protective Services or other foster and adoption agencies.
If a family starts out fostering a baby and later fosters a 10-year-old, for example, the family can come back for more supplies. As the newly opened Closet operates, a decision may be made about whether to limit the number of items families can receive, officials with the organization said.
The Collective Closet will operate from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. But workers will be on call, so if a foster family gets a baby at 9 p.m. and needs a bed, manager Ellen Winegeart said, “We will bring it to them.”
Winegeart added that the mission of the Closet is to help each foster family get started with items that children coming into their home will need and for foster children to know that someone loves and cares about them.
“We want every child to feel good about what she or he gets here.”
Children sometimes arrive in foster care with only a backpack. The Collective Closet contains supplies for babies through teenagers. All items in the Closet are donated and are free. Most are new, although there are lightly used items, too.
During an open house Monday, the Closet accepted donations such as strollers, baby monitors, diaper bags, small cribs and mattresses, toddler beds, clothing, shampoo and small stuffed animals.
Teenagers usually don’t like hand-me-downs, so the Closet will provide gift cards so they can pick out clothing they want, Winegeart said.
The Closet will help with the costs of fostering a child, Cheryl Layne said, so families who are worried it might be too expensive will be encouraged to take that next step. Layne and her husband, Mark, who have two biological children, fostered and then adopted four siblings about 10 years ago.
The couple is providing the building that houses the Closet.
Kelley Decker and her husband have two biological children and presently foster a 6-month-old they are trying to adopt.
“I think the Closet is a great idea for people just starting out,” Decker said. “This is a good way to get the things you need. If you get a placement, call them up and they can help you out.”
Opening the Closet is a move by its parent organization toward building a community around foster families and adoptive families, said Justin Hayes, executive director of the Fostering Collective.
In Smith County alone, Hayes said, there are about 240 children in foster care and only about 140 foster families. Over half of the children placed in foster care end up having to go to other counties because there are not enough foster families for them, he said.
Hayes said statistics show that over half of foster families end up quitting the first year because of lack of support.
According to Hayes, the Fostering Collective works to combat the shortage by encouraging teamwork to meet the needs of foster children. It provides support to the children and families to let them know they are not alone and to give them answers and encouragement, Hayes said.
The Fostering Collective also partners with churches to help them start foster and adoptive ministries.
“More than anything,” he said, “we want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and help these foster kids know that they are loved and we are here for them and their families.”
The organization started a few years ago as the East Texas Orphan Care Network, but rebranded as the Fostering Collective to focus on ministering to foster families and people who adopt children who are in foster care.
Key churches involved in the Fostering Collective include South Spring Baptist Church, Bethel Bible Church, Flint Baptist Church, Grace Community Church, Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler Christian Fellowship, and Central Baptist Church in Tyler and Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview.
For more information, go to thefosteringcol lective.org.