Clothing is for kids in foster care

Photo by LORETTA JACKSON Katie John, left, a Nashua resident and the Nashua area project coordinator for The Pass Along Project, and volunteer Kimberly Kelly, of Bedford, arrange some of the size-specific and gender-specific clothing bundles assembled by supporters of the nonprofit enterprise founded in 2017 by Lynette Kaichen, a foster parent from Effingham, whose first-hand experience with the sudden placement in her home of two young boys in need of immediate foster care motivated her to launch the project that provides from regional locations throughout the state a week’s worth of clothing, a starter wardrobe comprised of clothes, shoes, sleepwear, underwear and other size-specific and gender-specific necessities that provide comfort and respect for foster children arriving from crisis situations and little notice into foster care.

NASHUA – Each day across New Hampshire and elsewhere, social workers remove abused and neglected children from crisis situations, with the youngsters often ending up in foster care.

Specifically, more than 900 children enter New Hampshire foster homes in a typical year, according to the state Division for Children, Youth & Families. These children often arrive at a foster home with nothing but the clothes that were on their backs at the time of rescue, as a judge’s order to remove a child often is executed fast and can create a cataclysm of confusion for the youngster.

Now, a new nonprofit organization is working to ease the jolt. The Pass Along Project strives to provide, within hours, a starter wardrobe of new and gently used clothing to children entering foster care.

Foster parent Lynette Kaichen, of Effingham, founded the program last year after learning, first-hand, that children who enter foster care often arrive with nothing on a moment’s notice.

Their safeguarding may be from dangerous, abusive or harmful situations. Speed is essential. Kaichen and her husband were newly certified foster parents when their first call to action was received.

Katie John is the project coordinator who heads the Nashua chapter of the project. She said many of the children who enter foster care sometimes arrive very unexpectedly, even at night, from all parts of the state.

“They are usually wearing something too small or dirty or badly worn,” John said. “They’re usually very scared, as they’re going to strangers and everything that they had is gone – it’s very traumatic.”

John said the sudden nature of an arrival can launch a flurry of activity. The foster parents sometimes have just hours to secure the variety of basics appropriate for a child’s age and gender.

“Lynette got a call at the end of a work day and was told that two boys were on their way,” John said. “Lynette barely had time to run to the store and get a couple of things and, after the boys arrived, there was no time at all.”

The “couple of things” amounted to around $250. John said it is a gross misnomer that “the government pays for everything,” adding that foster parents are allotted $23 per day for expenses. She added that a $50 emergency stipend is available, but it arrives long after foster parents have spent substantial funds on shoes, clothes and other necessities that are basics.

Kaichen’s idea to create pre-made bundles of clothing in specific sizes for both boys and girls is now the basis of the project’s mission. Now, with a growing network of volunteers and locations in Nashua, Manchester and Milford, along with Ossipee, Contoocook, Hampton Falls and Laconia, the volunteers usually are able to deliver bundles within a few hours to foster parents in those regions.

To reach the goal of service to the entire state, more sponsors are needed, along with volunteers, donations and additional drop-off sites at local businesses, churches, schools, or other locations.

“Since the opioid crisis has gone crazy, the state is overloaded with twice the amount of children to place somewhere safe,” John said. “A foster parent might take care of a child for three or four months, or more.”

A bundle typically includes enough clothing for seven days and garments to span all seasons. New items include two sets of pajamas, a package of underwear, a package of socks and, season dependent, a spring jacket or winter coat. Infants call for about twice the amount of clothing and extra gear such as sleepers, burping cloths and receiving blankets, as well as diapers and wipes.

John said a recent clothing drive held at Movement Church on Depot Street in Merrimack drew 48 volunteers who contributed 286 hours of volunteer time sorting clothing and building the gender-specific, size-specific bundles that are delivered to foster children. Diapers and baby wipes are always appreciated. Some 147 large bags of clothing donations were transformed into 130 finished bundles for the children.

Volunteer Kimberly Kelly, of Bedford, joined John in organizing the clothing drive at Movement Church and also assisted in the four-day sorting and bundling effort. Kelly said the project enables a child to be shown respect and is a comfort to kids displaced through no fault of their own.

“I was always interested in foster care, but not in a position to take in a child,” Kelly said. “This helps me be a part of the solution and I help on a regular basis.”

John said families that take foster children into their homes and their hearts are mindful of the effort required, but that support would be deeply appreciated.

“We’re helping the problem in the foster community,” John said. “And we hope to bring awareness to the public of how impactful this service is and how they can partner with us.”

Information on The Pass Along Project can be had from Nashua Coordinator Katie John at nashuanhpassalong@gmail.com, or from Project Director and Founder Lynette Kaichen at info@thepassalongproject.com. Alternatively, organizers can be reached at 603-817-9011.