A flat transport cart — topped with 20 fully packed duffel bags, along with a few new pillows and some colorful stuffed animals — was the centerpiece for Tuesday’s Story County Board of Supervisors meeting in Nevada.


The centerpiece was important as it showed donations that have been received during a recent foster care drive by Team Story (employees of Story County), which was organized by the Story County Attorney’s Office.


Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds greeted the supervisors, saying she was at the meeting to talk about “one of our most vulnerable populations in Story County” — foster kids.


Each child, she said, has his or her own unique story, whether they’ve been the victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect, she said most foster care situations are the result of substance abuse and/or mental health issues with their parents.


“One thing I’ve learned as a prosecutor,” she said, is that “when you meet a child who’s been through that type of trauma…there’s a lack of self-worth, a lack of trust … because the person who was supposed to take care of them is someone who’s treated them … literally like garbage.”


Story County resident Elaine Cox, a retired pediatric nurse who with her husband has been doing foster care for 25 or more years and who has had between 50 and 60 children in her home over the years, said, “It breaks my heart when they come in with a bag like this.” She was holding a black garbage bag.


Team Story has been doing a duffel bag fundraiser this late fall as part of a national program called Sweet Cases. (You can find out more at www.togetherwerise.org.) Sweet Cases seeks to help kids in foster care and move away from the stigma of carrying belongings with them in garbage bags.


Reynolds shared her feeling about how difficult it must be for the officers and Department of Human Services workers who must go into a home quickly in some cases and have to grab a garbage bag or two and tell the child to fit everything they can into that bag, especially when these adults are only trying to help, not hurt, a child.


But garbage bags “are really an indignity,” Cox said. “These kids are traumatized.” Her experience has shown her that foster children are in constant survival mode. Maybe their parents haven’t sent money to school so they can eat lunch, or even filled out forms for free or reduced meals. Sometimes, she said, they may wear the same clothes all week, even if something has spilled on them, because they have no clean clothes to wear.


Bambi Schrader, of YSS and Four Oaks, has worked with children for 29 years, and specifically with foster children for the past 23 years. She looked at the full cart of items being donated and said she never ceases to be amazed by the generosity of people who want to help. And amazingly, a big number of those who helped were other kids.


Reynolds said that besides several of her own employees who helped in her office to gather needed items for foster kids, she wanted to point out a few other major contributors. Twenty duffel bags were donated by the Cambridge United Methodist Church. The Nevada Middle School Cubs Club (featured in a previous article a few weeks back) collected a large amount of personal hygiene and other products that can help kids in foster care. Some 4-H Clover Kids in the county, and other county staff members and individuals, also donated to the cause. There was more collected than what was filling the current 20 duffel bags, and the gathering of items hasn’t ended, she said. She’s been invited to a Christmas party in Huxley, where more donations for foster kids will be presented.


Team Story went through all the items collected and filled each duffel bag they have so far full of products that can be helpful to foster kids in their transitions from home to home. Bags are packed differently for various age groups and also by gender.


Nevada educator Jessie McGaffin attended the presentation with several middle school students. Other county employees were also in attendance for the presentation.


“I want everyone to know, it’s really uplifting, and it’s going to mean a lot to these kids … to know that people care in their community,” Reynolds said.


Bambi Schrader of YSS offers the following comments about Foster Care:


♥ To have a backpack filled with things the child might need right away (i.e. personal hygiene items for older children and a stuffed animal for younger children) is incredibly relieving to foster families who are trying to make a very scared child comfortable in a stranger’s home.


♥ Please consider if you have room in your home for another child or sibling group. There are over 4,000 children in the foster care system (in Iowa), but less than 2,000 homes. Children in your communities need you. You do not have to be a “perfect parent” to become a foster/adoptive family, you just need to be able to offer love, stability and guidance.


♥ If you are not able to become a foster/adoptive home, there are other great ways to support these children. Supporting this backpack drive is one. Other ways include: bringing a meal to a foster family who has just taken in new placements; hosting a “child shower” for the foster family who now has a sibling group; collecting suitcases, duffel bags or totes that foster families can put a child’s things in when they will return to their birth home or are moved to another foster home; and donating children’s items, like toys and clothing.


♥ Reach out if you have questions about foster care or how you can help. Bambi can be reached at 515-291-4071 or by email at: BSchrader@yss.org.