When Nancy Norton and the rest of the Juneau Mendenhall Flying Lions Club read about Juneau’s need for families willing to take in foster children, they knew they had to do something to help, Norton said.
The club did some research into programs around the country and decided it wanted to gift each Juneau child in foster care with some things of their own, all zipped up in a backpack they can take anywhere, she said.
“It struck a chord with us so we contacted the Office of Children’s Services to see if they had a need for something like this and they said yes,” Norton said.
Saturday marks the club’s first Lions Packs drive. Lions Club members will be at the Nugget Mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. collecting new and gently used backpacks, travel-sized shampoo and conditioner, small toys and stuffed animals and coloring books and crayons.
Norton said the club decided on a backpack drive because “at least in Juneau, everybody has a backpack.”
“This is something they can take from OCS to their foster home,” she said. OCS told her children often enter foster care with only the clothes on their back, or with a trash bag holding a few items, she said. “This is something they can take with them and keep, something that’s theirs.”
Often, children in foster care move from home to home until the best fit is found, said John Bennett, family support specialist with the Alaska Center for Resource Families, a non-profit that contracts with OCS. There are about 95 children in foster care in Juneau.
The city is in “constant need” of foster parents, Bennett said. More options mean a better chance for a good fit for a child who needs a home.
“Every time a child is moved, it’s harmful,” he said. “The more families we have, the more likely we are to find a permanent home for a child.”
Norton plans to outfit each of Juneau’s foster children with a backpack of “necessity and comfort.” She said the club will accept nearly any items for children of all ages, from infant to teen — some good ideas are toothpaste and winter gloves. Lions Club members will sort through the donations and separate items by age and gender so appropriate backpacks can be assembled and matched with the right children.
The club hopes to get the backpacks ready and delivered to OCS by Dec. 3, in time for the holiday season, Norton said. The Lions Club has already gotten lots of donations, even before the official drive has begun, but is looking for more, she said.
“I have no idea if we’re going to get 10 backpacks or 150 or a truckload of shampoo,” she said. “We’re just hoping to bring some comfort to these children during a difficult time, to let them know we care and they’re being thought of.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.