Joya Crawford has been a foster parent. Angela Kienzle was once a foster kid.
The women, both 37, head up Everett First Baptist Church's ministry organization called Abe and Sarah's Kids, which supplies clothing to foster children.
The work of Abe and Sarah's provides state Department of Social and Health Services staff with totes or backpacks called Loads of Love, used when a child is first placed in foster care. Often that placement is a traumatic event and child may arrive at a foster home clothed only in a T-shirt and a soggy diaper.
Loads of Love packs include diapers, comforting blankets or stuffed toys, pajamas, underwear and socks and hygiene items for older kids and teens. The packs, labeled by age and gender, are kept stocked at DSHS offices in Everett, Lynnwood and Arlington.
"We wanted to eliminate the use of plastic trash bags as suitcases for these kids and to provide immediate essentials for those who come with nothing," Kienzle said.
Then, once a month or more, Abe and Sarah's Kids opens its church basement clothing closet to local foster families, welcoming them to pick out donated toys, books, birthday presents, clothing and shoes for their foster children.
Named for Abraham and Sarah in the Bible, Abe and Sarah's Kids has a mission that underscores the group's belief that the care of all children should be a focus of Christians, Kienzle said.
The foster-care program started a few years ago in Crawford's Bible study group at First Baptist Church. The group wanted to take on a community service project..
"Our group included parents of special needs kids and adopted international children," Crawford said. "We talked with some social workers and picked what we do well. We decided to help foster children."
Kienzle saw a notice in the church bulletin about getting involved in Abe and Sarah's Kids.
"I knew right away I wanted to help," Kienzle said. "As a former foster child -- a part of my life I hid for a long time -- I understand the challenges for the foster kids and the foster parents. I was 6 months old when I became a foster child and I was in 30 foster homes before I was finally adopted. Our work to help foster children is where my heart is."
Crawford, an elementary school teacher in south Everett, has been a foster parent numerous times. She even served as a short-term foster parent for one of her own students. Not long ago, she and her husband adopted two young children who had been in foster care in their home.
Crawford and Kienzle said regular Abe and Sarah's Kids volunteers Melodee Campbell and Carol Jodock have made the clothing closet a great place for foster families. Kienzle's 14-year-old daughter Grace, a Cascade High School freshman, also helps with Loads of Love.
"My mom has been a great inspiration for me," Grace said. "I want to be a social worker some day."
Other students from Cascade and Kamiak high schools and Everett Community College have helped with the effort, as have many local Girl Scout troops, Crawford said.
"We opened our clothing closet about a year ago and it has gone well," Crawford said. "Our church family here at Everett First Baptist has been very generous."
Sheila Koenig and Angela Edwards, who work at Social and Health Services, have high praise for Abe and Sarah's Kids.
"I use Loads of Love on nightly basis," said Edwards. "My shift is after-hours and I often place children who come in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs."
Abe and Sarah's Kids is a wonderful resource for Snohomish County's social workers, Koenig agreed.
"They make it so much easier for the foster parent or relative caregiver to get through the first night," Koenig said.
The Christian church used to care for orphans of all sorts, Crawford said.
"These are all our children. It's our job," Crawford said. "We are blessed to be able to share."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
How to help
For more information about Abe and Sarah's Kids, go to www.abeandsarahskids.org. Donations can be made in the office of Everett First Baptist Church, 1616 Pacific Ave., or call 425-259-9166 or 425-341-3762. Needed are backpacks, diapers, toiletries, shoes and clothes for infants through teens, books, toys, gift cards and coupons for formula and diapers. Abe and Sarah's Kids clothing closet is next open for foster families from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the church.
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