Foster parent revives supply drive for foster children

Donation bins at Washougal Riverside Christian School, several local businesses

As a child, Jeannine Mills was a part of the foster care system. As an adult, she’s not only a foster parent, but a regional representative for the Washington State Department of Children Youth and Families and a former court-appointed special advocate for foster children in Clark County.

So when Mills heard Washougal’s Riverside Christian School was interested in reviving its foster care supply drive program, she had no doubt she wanted to be involved.

“My entire background is in child welfare, and I have a lot of experience in child welfare. Eventually I’d like to have a political run that basically focuses on child welfare and reform,” the Washougal resident said. “There was no sign of (a project like this) anywhere, so I said, ‘Why don’t I take this on?” I know first-hand how important these resources are for those kids.”

In November, Mills launched a supply drive to collect items and create “welcome bags,” which she will pass on to local DCYF offices and private foster care agencies to be distributed to foster children as needed.

She placed donation bins at Riverside Christian School and seven local businesses, including 54-40 Brewing Co., Craig’s Plumbing Solutions and Country Financial, and is planning to add more organizations to her network for the next “wave” of collections in the spring.

“I wanted to (make the supply drive) a little bit bigger, but pilot it in Camas and Washougal, so I reached out to a couple of friends who own businesses just to get my feet wet and see how it would work out, and so far it’s been incredibly successful,” she said. “The community has been really open to this project. This will cross over to Vancouver in the spring and hopefully by the end of all this, everybody (in Clark County) knows about it and will want to be a part of it.”

So far, community members have donated enough items to fill 100 “welcome bags,” according to Mills.

“The amount of donations that we’ve been able to receive has been (overwhelming),” she said. “(I feel) extreme gratitude to a level that I can’t even put into words. It’s very humbling as well. I have three biological children at home, and to be able to show them how important this work is and how (other people in the community) believe in it, I’m incredibly grateful. It’s a very emotional thing for me.”

Mills surveyed her foster care social media groups to generate a list of items in the areas of personal hygiene (brush/comb, body wash, shampoo and conditioner, hair ties, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant), clothing (pajamas, socks, underwear), baby/toddler (formula, diapers, pull-ups, wipes) and comfort items (coloring books/crayons, fidget toys, stuffed animals, journals, blankets).

In Washington state, “increased numbers of kids are coming into (foster) care and resources are decreasing at the same time,” 54-40 Brewing wrote on a Nov. 26 Facebook post. “This will have catastrophic results if we don’t step in to bridge this gap.”

“A lot of the children are coming (to their new foster homes) in the middle of the night or at very random times,” Mills said. “Sometimes it’s an emergency and a kid just kind of shows up on your doorstep, and you don’t have these things. A lot of (the ideas for items came) from kids who have said to their social worker specifically, ‘It would’ve been really nice to have a journal or my own blanket’ or something like that. A lot of foster children show up with a Safeway grocery bag or garbage bag. This is a way to give something that is theirs when everything else has been taken from them.”

Mills said the work has been “a little overwhelming” but ultimately “incredibly rewarding.”

“From my experience, there’s still a stigma associated with foster care and who foster parents are and who these children that are entering into care are,” she said. “There’s a huge misconception. Talking to these businesses and enlightening them on the real situation has been very, very fulfilling. It solidifies my work and my path, and (shows me that) this is definitely where I need to be.”