New program hopes to fill foster kids' needs - East Valley Tribune: News

New program hopes to fill foster kids' needs

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Posted: Monday, February 8, 2010 3:53 pm | Updated: 3:27 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

For foster children in the East Valley, a new set of school clothes, or even an extra toy, is that much closer to a reality. In light of state funding cuts affecting foster children, Mesa United Way officials started a program called Helen's Hope Chest - set to officially open Saturday - aimed at helping to pair those children with needed supplies at no cost.

For foster children in the East Valley, a new set of school clothes, or even an extra toy, is that much closer to a reality.

In light of state funding cuts affecting foster children, Mesa United Way officials started a program called Helen's Hope Chest - set to officially open Saturday - aimed at helping to pair those children with needed supplies at no cost.

For 16-year-old Jeremy, who has been in foster care for most of his life, the program meant new khaki trousers and a dress shirt for his first job interview, said Janine McKay, the coordinator for Helen's Hope Chest.

"They haven't gotten much in their lives, and their faces light up when they get some new clothes, a backpack for school and maybe a toy," she said.

Helen's Hope Chest was made possible by volunteers who remodeled and are stocking a formerly vacant municipal building and by residents and businesses who donated to the facility, which will be organized like a store - only with no price tags.

The new facility at 415 N. Pasadena - just off University Drive between Center Street and Mesa Drive - is located across the street from the Mesa United Way.

The city granted the group use of the building for a renewable yearly lease of $1.

According to Child Protective Services, more than 4,500 children placed in foster care in the state experienced a dip in funding in 2009, lowering the stipend to foster families from $900 to $700. The cuts were made to help bridge the state's budget gap.

Mesa United Way officials reported that foster parents currently get a state clothing allowance of only $12 a month per child; the state virtually eliminated assistance for other expenses such as school supplies, recreational activities and birthday and Christmas gifts.

While the grand opening is Feb. 13, the charity has been helping foster care families since last year's budget cuts.

Helen's Hope Chest is named in honor of the late Helen Paula Simmons, who spent most of her childhood in foster care and went on to raise a family of her own despite difficult circumstances, according to the charity.

The organization reported shortages in the following items to be donated to foster care children: elementary school-aged boys clothing, school supplies, books, backpacks, personal hygiene products and household items such as small appliances, linens, towels, dishes, pots and pans and utensils to help young people who are leaving the foster system and setting up their own households.

"The kind of stuff your mom and dad packed your car up with when you first left home," McKay said.

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