Foster Love Project Kicks Off Donation Drive, Opens New Center
Oct 31, 2017 05:18PM
● By Vanessa Orr
Kelly and Andrew Hughes have opened their home to many foster children over the years, so they are well-versed in what these children need as they transition from one home to another. The unfortunate truth is that many of these kids show up with just a garbage bag holding all of their belongings—something that the Foster Love Project is hoping to change.
“We’ve had 10 children come through our home, and they all showed up with nothing,” explained Kelly Hughes, founder and director of the Foster Love Project. “It was just overwhelming. You’d get a call and have only a couple hours’ notice to get the kids what they needed before they arrived.
“The fact that these kids were given trash bags to carry their stuff in also showed them that their belongings were disposable; that they were disposable,” she added. “We wanted to find a way to give these children more dignity and worth while they were transferring homes.”
Hughes started the Foster Love Project three years ago, and it has quickly caught on. People are asked to donate a duffel bag or backpack to the organization filled with age-appropriate items that children need, including pajamas, blankets, socks, items for personal hygiene, books and stuffed animals; they can also include other items as room allows. All of the items should be new with the tags still on.
“It’s extra special for these kids to receive something new,” said Hughes, adding that many of them are used to only receiving hand-me-downs.
The Foster Love Project held its first drive in 2014 with the goal of receiving 300 bags. “We received 1,300 bags!” said Hughes. “We were so excited to see how quickly people in Pittsburgh grasped what we were trying to do.”
To date, more than 5,000 bags have been collected and distributed to agencies locally, throughout the state and to agencies in West Virginia. ‘We’re excited to expand even further, depending on how many bags are collected this year,” said Hughes.
“It’s a great way for people to be involved in the foster system without being foster parents,” she added. “And it’s really nice to see how many people go beyond—not just including the required items, but adding coloring books, flashlights, hats and gloves, toys and more. The children really feel the love when they open these bags.”
Donators can choose whether to build a bag for an infant, toddler to school-age child, or teenager. The required items are listed on the group’s website, as are suggestions for other things to include. People are asked to only donate completed bags, and they can also give gift cards to help out foster parents.
“The feedback is all positive,” said Hughes. “The kids are so excited to get new items, and it really helps the foster parents out. The items we include are all things that I wish my kids had come with when they arrived.”
This year’s bag drive will take place from November 13 to December 16, and there are 30 drop-off locations, including some in the North Hills. The sites will be posted on the website as the kick-off date nears.
New Donation Center Opens
Since beginning the bag drive, the Foster Love Project has become a resource for many foster parents who have asked for help with items like clothing, high chairs, cribs and more.
“We would put a call out on social media, and people would respond,” said Hughes. “But about a year ago, we decided to try to create a space where donations could be dropped off, and foster families could come and shop. We didn’t know if we could do it because we had a very small budget, and places are expensive to rent.”
North Way Christian Community Church, located in Dormont, had a large space that they weren’t using and offered it to the organization at a very low cost. On July 1, the donation center was opened, and it was immediately filled with items that foster families could use.
“We’re open three days a week and are staffed by volunteers,” said Hughes of the space at 1365 Espy Avenue. “We encourage families to come and volunteer—we can always use help prepping inventory, getting items on shelves, and helping shoppers find what they need in specific sizes.”
Hughes adds that all of the items they carry, while gently used, must meet high standards. “We only put out things that we’d put on our own kids,” she said.
Foster families and those who want to donate or volunteer can learn more by visiting www.fosterloveproject.org. Make sure to check back to see drop-off locations as they are posted.