See part 1: Disasters bring out the best in a community.
This week, as Foster Together Colorado is ramping up our program plans and fundraising, Hope compares disaster relief efforts to the crisis of foster care.
CONNECTION #2. PEOPLE LIKE TO GIVE TANGIBLE ITEMS
Last week, during news coverage for Hurricane Harvey, I heard multiple pleas from nonprofits asking donors to stop sending boxes of relief items. Instead, they asked for financial donations to allow them to buy exactly what people needed, and not leave them with warehouses of un-sorted toothbrushes and tshirts on the wrong side of town.
Some of the most successful foster care support events are backpack or suitcase stuffing parties. I know why. I have a three-year-old. How gratifying to take him to Walmart and spend $30 on some of his favorite necessities, imagining together the child who will receive our gift. An afternoon well spent. I can feel good about that. With a strategic distribution plan, backpacks with school supplies and suitcases with fresh pajamas give kids (and their caregivers) relief and normalcy.
It's easy to see a “big problem” rather than a person.
But, when that strategy isn’t clear ahead of time, I have to remind myself of the Hurricane Harvey (and now Irma, too) donation warnings. I've seen the situation parallelled in foster agencies and nonprofit basements: dozens of backpacks and suitcases needing storage and labeling, with plenty of effort ahead to get the supplies to the right child.
My first time as a foster mom, I cared for a toddler and a five-year old for seven weeks. Our home felt like a drive-by stuffed animal donation center. The girls received stuffed bears, puppies, even a monkey, from our agency, DHS intake office, DHS visit supervisor, and others. I think they collected a dozen stuffed animals in less than two months. The girls were excited (for a few minutes) by each new lovie. I was grateful for the kindness they represented.
Here’s what we can learn from this. People like giving something tangible. It makes them feel good. It’s simple. They put themselves in a place of tragedy and imagine the comfort of something small like a toothbrush or stuffed animal. We know people have good intentions. From the natural disaster relief staffers, we know that the general public tends to see a “big problem” rather than the needs of an individual. When imagining a child’s nightmare of abuse, we want to give comfort, but don’t always know a specific child to give to. Comfort without necessitating personal connection? Stuffed animal.
And I understand why. Big systems for disaster relief or child welfare sometimes operate under a one-size-fits-all solution. To counter this, Foster Together begins with an easy system to match specific foster family requests with a real-life neighbor to meet their tangible need. (If you want to help make this happen, leave a comment! Donations coming soon!) Child abuse and neglect is a “big problem,” but as long as the general public keeps hearing scary, depressing statistics instead of getting face-to-face with the people in need, we won’t be able to tailor our support to their needs.
Hear me out. I am grateful for every stuffed animal the kids received, for the school supplies that kept “our” 12-year-old coloring for hours. I am grateful for every box of canned goods and toothbrushes sent to fellow Americans along the coasts this week. And my goal is to take the kind intentions of every donor, give them an easy way to meet a specifically-requested, tangible need, WHILE inviting them into a relationship with the people they help. Yes, it’s the best way to make sure we’re giving what someone actually needs, but it’s also the best way to grow our souls by the challenges of helping real people.
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy their community. But the person who loves those around them will create community.” D. Bonhoeffer
Continued tomorrow. Follow @fostertogether on Instagram to read the final disaster relief/foster care comparison this week.
Image credit to a local friend and fellow foster mom.