PORTLAND, Ore. -- Tucked in among the luxury lofts and renowned restaurants of Portland’s Pearl District is a new exclusive boutique. It’s so exclusive that only one select group can even shop here.
Sadly though, it is a big group. This pop-up store is for the more than 2,000 children living in foster care in Multnomah County. For two weeks, the children will be met at the door by volunteers and escorted around the store to shop for among the racks for free, donated clothes.
Some of the clothes are gently used, but just as many are brand new. All are a gift from a new group called Project Lemonade - a group dedicated to turning lemons into lemonade for kids who may be starting over again this fall, at a new school or with a new family.
Precious Anderson, a volunteer with Project Lemonade, says the response from the shoppers has been nothing short of sheer joy. “It’s good to see the little kids coming in here and dragging their clothes around. They are like, I like that!”
It is a bittersweet moment for Precious, who knows what it feels like to go without. At barely three she began a painful path that would take her through more than two dozen foster homes. Even as a lovely, confident 17-year-old, she is haunted by her own history. She remembers what it was like to move so much.
“It just happens one day and you have to learn to live and deal with it,” she says. “I remember taking garbage bags full of whatever I had which was usually a teddy bear and a pillow.”
The hardest part was often starting over at another new school. “I never got school clothes, ever. I don’t think I even knew what school clothes were,” says Precious.
It’s a comment that brings Rhonda Meadows to tears.
“I think when you hear that, you can’t believe it,” says Rhonda. She’s is a former foster mother herself and is now the heart of Project Lemonade. Each Fall, Rhonda remembers the little boy who was brought to her doorstep so long ago.
“Alan came in my home with a paper bag. Inside there was a T-shirt and a pair of socks,” she says. “No child should have to do that.”
This donated space transformed by dedicated volunteers, contributions from Nike, Columbia and many more, can’t heal all the wounds inflicted when a family falls apart. But this year at least, hundreds of foster kids will know what “back to school” clothes look like and what it feels like when a community cares.
“The word foster means to care for, to cherish and promote growth,” Rhonda points out, “and I think that’s what we are doing here.”
In the next week Project Lemonade hopes to serve more than a thousand children referred by the Department of Human Resources. Then they will begin looking for a new location with the goal of eventually opening a year-round store.
More Information: www.projectlemonadepdx.org