Sometimes you watch, from a distance, as friends do something truly life-changing.
A few years back, my friend Kim Graham worried about leaving her full-time job to stay home with her children. She had always worked — and she was good at it. She didn’t know what she was going to do with herself.
Then her husband asked an important question: What had she wanted to do, but never found time for, when she was working?
Graham knew the answer: She loved to volunteer. This got her thinking about a different type of play group, the kind that could revolve around service. She started organizing weekly get-togethers with her fellow moms. The service projects were simple — something they could put together while their children played, such as making place mats for Meals on Wheels.
“We could sit around and chat and still make a difference,” Graham said.
Then her friend Kari Greer approached with an idea. She had heard that children in their Minnesota suburbs were put into foster care with nothing but a trash bag to hold their few personal items.
Together they founded the Fostering Love Project. Covering two counties in the Twin Cities area, Graham and Greer supply social workers with backpacks tailored specifically for kids in need. The backpacks usually include a blanket contributed by Project Linus, a stuffed animal and some new clothes. At Christmas, they organize larger donations for foster kids.
Setting up the nonprofit was surprisingly easy — so easy, in fact, that both Graham and Greer were unnerved by the quick turnaround. When word came that they had been approved, the realization set in.
“Oh, we’re official,” Graham said of their reaction. “I guess the ball is rolling.”
Support from the local community has been overwhelming. The nonprofit relies on donations of backpacks and clothing mostly from people right in their neighborhoods. Graham puts out a call on social media. The rest just falls into place.
"This works great for these two busy moms, who can schedule donation pickups between school drop-offs and children's activities. In the nearly two years since they launched the Fostering Love Project, the dynamic duo has helped hundreds of fostered children. The first Christmas, the county gave them the names of 25 kids to help. The second Christmas, they had more than 100 kids.
“Word has gotten out that (because of our organization), the county can process more kids,” Graham said.
Interacting with donors has been one of the greatest experiences for Graham.
“People want to help in their communities, but they don’t know where to look,” she said. “I meet the most amazing people with big hearts and amazing stories. There’s just so much joy. I can see so much good in the world.”
This Christmas, for instance, there was a donor family who had lost their son. In his honor, they sponsored a teenage foster child of the same age.
Graham said helping in the community doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. Something as simple as taking old newspapers to the animal shelter or saving hotel shampoos for hygiene kits can make an impact.
“It takes a little research upfront, but the more I’ve gotten out there and gotten involved in little ways, the more I’ve learned what’s available.” She recommends finding service that fits your schedule and draws upon your talents.
“When we first started, Kari’s idea was that we would make the backpacks,” Graham said. “We got together with some fabric and tried to sew — it was terrible and awful. I wish I would have kept that scraggly bag. We joked that the kids would have been better off with a trash bag.”
They reassessed and looked at their strengths. Graham’s gifts are publicity and running organizations. As a former distributor for Target, she knows how to move things through a pipeline and get stuff out the door. She does all the book work, while Greer acts as the face of the organization. They split the inventory between their two homes.
“I use the gifts I’ve been given, with the schedule that works with my life,” Graham said.
Her favorite part is being able to make an impact right in her community.Comment on this story
“I always thought the problems had to be somewhere else. But looking back as a child, I probably knew kids in these situations, but wasn’t aware.”
She finds that she approaches her faith, even scripture reading, differently now.
“I think a lot of about charity and the pure love of Christ, and just loving people,” she said. “I meet some interesting people. But the love is always there. I think, ‘You are my sister, and I could have been the one in your shoes.’ I am here to carry that burden.”
For more information on the Fostering Love Project, please visit fosteringloveproject.org