Janine McKay is helping the Mesa United Way put together Helen’s Closet, where foster care families can find new and gently used clothing, shoes, baby furniture and more.
Even at a discount store, a new pair of shoes can cost more than $12.
So when foster families saw their monthly allowance of state aid for clothing cut to $12, the Mesa United Way saw a need.
Now, with funds from a grant for an Vistas volunteer, Janine McKay is helping the Mesa United Way put together Helen’s Closet, where foster care families can find new and gently used clothing, shoes, baby furniture and more.
The donations started coming in about a month ago, and already the items have filled the donated space at a Mesa church. And more supplies are waiting in volunteers’ garages.
McKay is thrilled with the effort, but the space doesn’t really allow her to have multiple families coming in at once to pick out what they need. And she wants to expand the mission of Helen’s Closet.
“It got much huger than we thought it would. It’s wonderful. So much of the community has gotten involved in a few short weeks,” she said.
She’s hoping someone may donate a former store front or space in a strip mall so she can really start helping people.
“Volunteers at St. Luke’s (Lutheran Church) are sorting and hanging what we have there,” McKay said. “At this point, we have so much coming in we’re looking for a better place to be. ... I need at least 2,000 square feet to get this closet open.”
Lutheran Family Services wants to use the space now at the church as a counseling and resource center, as well as space to hold items for older children transitioning out of foster care — such as small appliances, cleaning supplies, toiletries and clothing for school or job interviews. The church space would also have “ready to go” bags filled with age-specific clothing items and other emergency needs — toothbrushes, diapers and more — for caseworkers to have on an as-needed basis.
McKay’s goal is to help foster families from all over the East Valley.
A new facility is needed to hold items for all ages, including clothing, domestic items and personal care. It would be a “store” where foster families could come get what they need,” McKay said.
“We are open to anyone in foster care, shelter homes or group homes for children. I’m also working with CPS and the case managers to take care of these children’s needs,” she said.
There are 10,000 children in foster care in Arizona.
The closet was named after a woman who was abandoned as an orphan and was raised in a foster care family in New York in the 1930s. She and her brother spent their years growing up with the foster care family. She went on to become a mom herself, raising two daughters on her own after her husband died in a car accident.
“They (the daughters) contacted us to see in what ways they could help us to get it (the clothing closet),” McKay said. “Just hearing their story, we asked them what their mother’s name was. Her name was Helen. We thought, ‘We’ll name it in her honor.’ She was orphaned herself and lost her husband, lost her brother, but she still created five generations after herself that became a sturdy family.”