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'This is how I give back': Vancouver nonprofit volunteers provide support for foster kids

Fosterful, formerly Office Moms and Dads, creates care backpacks for children entering foster care.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — When a child is taken from their home and placed in foster care, one of the first places they go is to a child welfare office and more often than not, they have little to nothing with them that they can call their own.

That's where volunteers with a Vancouver nonprofit step in to make the transition a little easier.

Sarah Desjailais started what is now known as Fosterful in 2013. The nonprofit recently rebranded the name from Office Moms and Dads to be more inclusive.

Desjailais and her husband were foster parents for nine years.

"I realized that there's a gap in the system and that is the hours after a child is removed, they are brought to the child welfare office and made to wait," she said. "I couldn't allow that to happen... I've got friends and family and community members that we can call on to come and sit with these kids so they don't have to bear these hours alone," Desjailais said.

RELATED: Oregon nonprofit supporting foster families sees need grow during pandemic

At their downtown Vancouver office, one of 26 throughout Washington and Idaho, volunteers with Fosterful spent a recent morning filling backpacks with care items to give to those children while they wait.

"Night lights, toothbrushes, change of clothes, stuffed animal or a blanket for comfort," Desjailais said describing some of the items placed in the backpacks.

The backpacks are small, but a large part of the nonprofit's mission.

The bags are given to the children as they wait in an office as foreign to them as the house they'll soon get placed in. 

Loren Lester has been volunteering for about eight years.

"Some are just taken out of their home, some have been taken from school. The other day we were down there and 'i just want my mom. I just want my mom." Lester said describing a recent time spent at a DCYF office.

Jenny Smothers, with Vancouver Elks Lodge 823, knows firsthand what those first few moments are like. She herself was placed into foster care as a teenager.

"You're taken from everything you know, good, bad or indifferent and all of this is new," Smothers said. 

She spent the morning helping fill backpacks.

"I always wanted to give back, but I couldn't," Smothers said holding back tears. "So this is how I give back."

Volunteers like Lester, who wait with the kids, help keep them engaged while a social worker finds the right home. The volunteers not only help the kids, but also the workers too.

Desjailais said it makes it easier for the children.

"What our foster parents are telling us is that our kiddos that we are helping are transitioning easier into their home. So they're coming to their home already better regulated emotionally. They've been fed, they've been cared for. They're kind of coming down out of that fight, flight or freeze mode," Desjailais said.

Whether it's a new stuffed animal, a book or a new shirt, the bags are filled with items that a child having next to nothing can once again call their own.

"Anything that can give them a smile is what you want," Smothers said.

Desjailais said they are always looking for volunteers to help sit with children.

"At Fosterful, it's a way for community members to get involved in foster care without becoming a full-fledged foster parent," she said.

Volunteers you must first pass a background check and attend trainings. To learn more, visit their website, fosterful.org.

RELATED: Vancouver sixth-grader authors book about growing up with cleft lip and palate

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