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Needs grow during pandemic for Tucson foster families and disadvantaged women
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Needs grow during pandemic for Tucson foster families and disadvantaged women

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If there’s a silver lining for Tucsonans housebound due to coronavirus concerns and sweltering temperatures, residents might find it by cleaning out closets and kids’ rooms.

New and gently used furniture, baby items, clothing, shoes and toys can become prized merchandise for local nonprofits that offer free “retail” experiences for foster children and their families and for disadvantaged women.

“If you have something that you would give to your grandchild, we will gratefully take it,” said Grace Stocksdale, founder of More Than A Bed Foster & Adoptive Family Resource Center. “The generosity of the community allows a family that gets new foster placement or emergency placement to come to us for help. The kids need everything from cribs and beds to underwear, clothing, toys and shoes —everything your child needs, these kids need.

“They come to a stranger’s home with nothing and we try to make them feel special,” Stocksdale said.

The nonprofit, which qualifies for the Arizona Foster Care Charitable Tax Credit, provides supplies and resources to foster, kinship and adoptive children and families in Tucson. Last year it served more than 2,800 children.

Stocksdale said foster families, like many Arizonans, have felt the economic and emotional toll of the pandemic.

“Kids are still being removed from their homes and placed in foster and kinship care, so we still have families in need and, in fact, this has made it worse. These families have the normal stresses of life and now many of them have lost jobs and have no income and they have had to teach kids from home, so that has just piled on to the usual stress,” Stocksdale said.

She emphasized that the average cost of preparation for placement for one child is between $200 and $800 — a sum that stresses many families.

Additionally, Stocksdale said that while licensed foster parents are required to obtain age-appropriate items necessary for child care, in cases of kinship placements with relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles and other extended family members) or friends, the requirements prior to receiving children are minimal.

“Many of these kinship families need extra help. Great-grandpa and grandma are receiving their great grandchildren or grandchildren and they struggle to care for them, but they do it,” Stocksdale said.

More Than A Bed seeks to relieve that burden by offering children’s bedroom furniture and new mattresses, along with a wide range of gently used baby supplies (cribs, car seats, high chairs and more), clothing (size newborn to youth XL), diapers, shoes, household items, toys and school supplies.

The 5,000-square-foot warehouse, at 3637 N. First Ave., is staged like a department store so that families “shop” for no charge. Pre-COVID-19 it was open three days weekly and two Saturdays a month, but the pandemic has forced changes: Donations are now accepted from 8:30 a.m. to noon each Thursday and shopping is scheduled by online appointment from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“We sort all donations and sanitize items outside before bringing them inside and we have also altered shopping. Families must sign up for 20-minute time slots so that we can manage the number of people in the warehouse. We have limited it to four people shopping at a time, and we ask that people leave children at home since we know it can be difficult for them to keep their masks on when they are excited,” said Stocksdale.

Along with a slowing of in-kind donations during the past few months, the organization also experienced a decline in financial donations, she said. She credits the generous support of individual donors and COVID-19 relief grants from the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the Arizona Community Foundation with facilitating operations when donations dropped off.

“God is good and he has blessed More Than A Bed,” she said.

Another nonprofit that is forging ahead with community support is Eagles Wings of Grace, a clothing and education ministry for disadvantaged women reentering society after incarceration, domestic violence, or alcohol or drug addiction.

“These women come to us with nothing, and our volunteers work with them to find clothing to help improve their self image and teach them basic life skills,” said Jacline Lown-Peters, president/executive director of the organization that relies heavily on volunteers.

“We want to make them feel blessed and to help set them up with confidence so they can get back into the workforce and can become viable assets to the community,” she said.

Last year, Eagles Wings of Grace served 1,200 women through referrals from 70 local nonprofits and social service agencies. Its “Clothed in Compassion” program offers free “shopping” for everyday and professional clothing and accessories suitable for job interviews; it also provides undergarments, casual clothing, shoes, toiletries and hair and skin care products.

In the past few years, it has expanded services to include “Let’s Get Cooking” classes and “Money Matters” financial management classes to prepare clients for long-term health, wellness and independence.

After forced closure due to the pandemic, the ministry reopened in its new location at 3618 E. Pima St. and is accepting donations of new and gently used clothing, shoes and accessories between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.

Lown-Peters said it is beginning to ramp up while practicing safe social distancing and she anticipates considerable growth in the next year.

“I believe that when things get calmer, we will really have an influx of women in need and possibly more women who will be getting back into the workforce after being inside for so long. When everyone is feeling safer, we are ready to continue helping them,” she said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net

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