Students, local church pitch in to help foster children
The Douglas County Health and Human Services Department received a sweet treat Thursday morning, a fresh infusion of Sweet Cases for children entering foster care. The cases give them something to pack their clothes and other items in.
"Before, we’d thrown things in pillow cases," said Doreen Wehmas, intake and assessment supervisor with the health and human services department. "It’s not very friendly for a kid to drag a pillow case."
The Sweet Cases, donated by eighth grade English students at the Superior Middle School, come with a blanket, teddy bear, coloring book and plenty of room for other items.
"It’s something they can use long term," Wehmas said.
A fundraiser inspired by a unit on diversity netted the students 62 of the Sweet Cases. They decorated the outside of the bags the last week of school, adding personal letters to the unknown children who will need them.
"We got them and started going through them and reading the letters," Wehmas said. "They added that personal touch that really made the difference and connected to the kids, thinking about others and community, and what they can do to help."
Between 50 and 60 children enter foster care each year in Douglas County.
"There was a time when it was only in the 20s," said social worker Cindy Peterson. "But the last couple of years, it’s been way up."
Drug abuse is now the No. 1 reason children enter foster care in Douglas County.
"Those bags will last us maybe a year, a year and a half," said Peterson.
The Sweet Cases are clean, sturdy and can be used for children of any age.
"We have other things we can add to them, based on what they need," Wehmas said.
The fact that the bags and their items are new is a plus.
"Often we don’t want anything to come from the house," Wehmas said, because it could be contaminated with drug residue. "You can’t decontaminate it."
The department contacts Bayside Baptist Church’s Promise 14:18 ministry whenever a child enters the foster care system in need of items. The Promise 14:18 members and their web of supporters deliver, whether it’s clothing and diapers or bigger items like high chairs and car seats.
The ministry began in 2011 to support adoptive families, but soon grew to encompass orphan care and foster care.
"We realized it’s all connected," said Dave Lemaster, a founding member of Promise 14:18.
In addition to responding to the county’s call for items, members share information on adoption and possible funding sources. They also host a monthly support group for adoptive and foster families, giving them a connection with others going through the same issues. These resources are open to everyone in the local area — Douglas County in Wisconsin and St. Louis, Lake and Carlton counties in Minnesota — not just church members.
"We’re here to help," Lemaster said.
For more information or to support the ministry, visit promise1418.org or the Promise 14:18 Facebook site, call Lemaster at 218-591-3892 or email email@example.com. The group is always in need of monetary donations and is currently accepting new and gently-used clothing for children, newborns through age 8.
The human services department is seeking people interested in providing foster care, even if it’s just temporary respite care. They currently have Douglas County children placed in Ashland and Green Lake, Wis. due to lack of local foster parents. For more information, call Foster Care coordinator Brittany Johnson at 715-395-1304.