ROCKINGHAM — Children in Richmond County’s foster care system will now have something to carry their clothes in other than plastic bags.
SOUL Stand Up, a branch off of Sisters Of Unity and Love, donated 40 suitcases and gym bags to the Richmond County Department of Social Services on Tuesday.
The organization decided to make the donation in May because of it being National Foster Care Month, according to Debra Johnson.
Tonee Grant, the group’s president, said a few of the members are foster parents and noticed children bringing their belongings to her house in trash bags.
“At least they can pack their things in a suitcase as they transition,” Grant said.
While the group makes the donation annually, Grant encourages other county residents to help out whenever they can.
“We’re hoping that the community will get involved and just drop off a suitcase to DSS during the year,” Grant said.
“This is wonderful,” Social Services Director Robby Hall said when he walked out and saw the bags bought by Johnson, Grant and other members Sheila Baker and Cynthia Ingram. Other members of the group are Avis Johnson, Carrie Little, Cynthia Little, Sallie Cameron, Lisa Graham and Paulette Wall.
The group donated around a dozen bags last year and Hall said they were all gone.
DSS has seen a marked increase in children coming into the system over the past three years, according to Hall.
This fiscal year, which began July 1, 2021, there have been 110 unique children to enter foster care, Hall said, adding that some have moved in and out and back into the system. That number is about double from the previous year.
The main reasons children are sent to foster care are domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse and drug use, Hall said.
DSS recently converted part of the breakroom and a storage room into a full bedroom and shower facility to temporarily house children with nowhere to go.
There is currently one child staying there.
Hall said this is the first time that has happened in his years with the agency, but it is an issue across the state, with other departments housing kids in hotel rooms.
During an April rally in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, Hall said the county is in need of foster parents.
The COVID pandemic affected both the recruitment of new parents and placement of the children. Kids can’t leave foster care until there is a court order, and the courts being closed for so long backed up the case log.
SOUL Stand Up is partnering with the Rockingham Housing Authority for a Back-to-School Bash on Aug. 12.
NOTE: Slight corrections made 11:41 a.m. 6-1-22.