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Foster parent service looking for new home for clothing warehouse

The Jackson County Foster Parent Association is once again facing the reality of finding a new home for a much-needed clothing warehouse.

The group has been based out of space in the downstairs of Grace Point Fellowship for the past two years, but the warehouse and all the clothing, furniture, toys and supplies must find a new location by July 1 because of code regulations and access issues.

The “clothes closet,” at 213 S. Fir St., provides items ranging from clothing, toys and bedding to cribs, high chairs and prom dresses for any child in the Jackson County foster care system. An onsite “birthday closet” provides birthday gifts — new items — for kids each year.

Local families say the service is a lifeline when foster children are placed with families with no more than the clothes on their backs.

The association has had to find a new home for the warehouse several times in its history, but board treasurer Christina Finke said trying to discuss the problem with board members — or to search for a new home during a pandemic — has been especially difficult.

“We’re kind of already used to having to move every couple years, but it doesn’t make it any less stressful that this could be the time we don’t come up with somewhere. The association is over 30 years old, and the warehouse has been available for at least half as long. I think we’ve probably been in over 10 places over the years,” she said.

“Our dilemma is that we have no real income, so we rely on donated space — properties that are vacant and where the property owner might want a tax write-off and to not have a building sitting empty. The problem is always that eventually they need the space for something else or they have someone who is able to pay for it, or maybe they are ready to sell it. It’s a case of, ‘Hey guys, love what you’re doing, but this is where we’re at.’ It’s understandable, and we’re really grateful to have had places we’ve been allowed to use. It’s just definitely a huge ordeal every time we have to get moved.”

Foster parent and board member Shawna Robley said if a new space is not found, discontinuation of the service would leave a lot of foster families — and kids — in a tough place.

“I’ve heard comments from different teenagers who have come in who only had one or two outfits to their name,” she said.

“For a lot of them, they have not ever had that chance to go and just pick out clothes that they wanted, so it means a lot to them to pick out clothes they can feel proud of.”

Eagle Point resident and foster parent Twyla Williamson said foster kids are often placed with nothing to wear.

“We have had kids move in with literally the clothes that were on their backs and shoes that were too small for their feet. It’s wonderful, because we just call (the warehouse), and they’ll meet us down there to get the kids set up with what they need.” She said a group of foster moms once banded together in just one evening to get a foster boy ready for a school field trip in the snow on Mount Ashland.

“We all take the kids shopping for things they need, too, but if you have a kid who is placed, and they have nothing to start with ... it adds up fast. It’s expensive to buy a new wardrobe. The warehouse is valuable to foster families,” she said.

“Sometimes you have kids for longer, and maybe they have a wardrobe finally, but then they change sizes almost overnight. The warehouse is just something that makes our lives a little easier, and it’s a great support.”

In addition to clothes and birthday gifts, the space provides items such as baby cribs, playpens, highchairs, bikes, prom clothes and winter gear.

Medford resident and foster parent Rose Graham applauded board members and volunteers who have kept the warehouse going on a nonexistent budget, saying she is hopeful they will be able to find a new space.

“The women who run it have it so organized, but another thing is the women are great to talk to about what you are going through,” she said.

“There is a lot of uncharted territory when you become a foster parent. Every case or situation is different, and they have so much information and experience.”

Typically open one morning and one evening per week, and for some hours on the weekend, the warehouse serves up to two dozen families per week. It is available by appointment only during COVID-19 restrictions, and likely until a new space is identified.

With so much uncertainty in the economy, Robley said board members were concerned a solution might not present itself this time.

“We’re seriously looking at the possibility we might have to shut it down or put some things in storage and get rid of the rest. None of us really know what will happen right now,” she said.

Added Finke, “It’s been weighing pretty heavy on all our hearts as the days and weeks pass by. It’s just really too sad to even think about.”

For more information, or to donate, see jcfpa.org/new-warehouse. To reach Finke, call 612-423-6182.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneChristine Finke and Shawna Robley sort through clothes in the storage place in the basement of Grace Point Fellowship in downtown Medford.