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Foster children love a store just for them, Foster Children’s Resource Center

Children in the county’s foster care system are sometimes swept out of a living situation with only the clothes on the backs.

Those living in the Santa Clarita and San Fernando valleys, and other children in the foster care system, have a special place to go  to pick out clothes, daily essentials, school supplies, a book or two and a toy — all free thanks to the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge.

The charity, under the umbrella of the Assistance League of Los Angeles, has operated a 1,500-square-foot retail store-like setting catering to foster children for 32 years.

Shelves are neatly arranged according to gender and ages and a volunteer “personal shopper” guides the children in choosing pants, shirts, undergarments and the like during a 30-minute shopping spree.

 

Genesis Martinez, 9-month old, gets some new shoes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteer Nancy Milkovich helps Libory Martinez, 9-years old, pick out clothes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteer Nancy Milkovich helps Libory Martinez, 9-years old, try on clothes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteer Mary Kaufman helpsDaniel Enrique Martinez, 12-years old, pick out some new clothes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Genesis Martinez, 9-month old, waits with her mother Selmira Sanchez as her brothers pick out clothes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Yahir Parada, 19-years old, picks out some new clothes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteer Mary Kaufman helps Yahir Parada, 19-years old, pick out some new clothes at the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge, Tuesday, Dec 20, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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More than 2,000 foster children who are registered with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services visit the resource center twice each year to get their free goodies valued at several hundred dollars.

Selmira Sanchez and her three young children visited the Foster Children’s Resource Center in Northridge for the first time, on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

“This is the first time I came,” said Sanchez, a Chatsworth resident who had her 9-month-old, Genesis Martinez, strapped to her chest. “Because of the serious crises (COVID and job losses) it’s incredible to have an opportunity to come. Since the moment I called, everyone has been nice to me — with exceptional service.”

Sanchez said she admired how the “store” was set up.

“It’s a wonderful experience for the older kids to pick out their own clothes, and I don’t have to force anything on them,” she added.

Her son Daniel Enrique Martinez, 12, was excited when he learned he could pick out his own clothes and anything else he wanted.

“People are so lovely here and so nice to me,” the 7th-grader eloquently said. “I like the way they treated me. I would love to come back. Everyone should come here (because) they treat you like you’re their best friend and it’s a good opportunity for kids to have fun in this store.”

His brother, Libory Martinez, did his “happy dance” at the end of the shopping spree after he found the perfect pillowcase to use to take home his goodies.

“This is fun,” the 9-year-old said.

The kids have 30 minutes to go through the store, pick out new clothes, try them on and model them for the 100 percent volunteer staff members to make sure they fit and have room to grow. The kids make decisions based on their own choices.

Social workers from the Department of Children and Family Services identify the children eligible to visit the resource center. They serve children as young as infants coming out of a neonatal intensive care unit, up to the day they turn 22, a wide age range of youngsters from different backgrounds and different situations.

Financial and gift donations are given through the Assistance Leagues of Los Angeles, which keeps the resource center operating.

Director Kristin Muhl described her work as “out there hustling, trying to find donors, linking up with schools and Girl and Boy Scouts and social service organizations like Kiwanis, Rotarians, Soroptimists, etcetera. And we work with a number of organizations to do drives and to provide donations to us. And then we seek donations from individuals and businesses and work with other nonprofits to get donations.”

The children get two outfits, a school uniform if needed, socks, undergarments, pajamas, jackets, a backpack filled with school supplies, reading-for-pleasure books, hygiene products and of course a gift or a toy at the end of their visit.

“Our job is to help provide the essentials kids need,” Muhl said. “So often kids are moved from one home to another and don’t have time to bring their belongings with them, so we provide all those essential items.”

“There is no paid staff,” she explains. “Their personal shoppers take them on their own individual shopping journey to get beautiful new things. Through the half-hour long appointment with us, it’s a beautiful and transformative experience. Each child is given the supplies they desperately need along with care, attention, dignity and respect.”

Mary Kaufman, a Moorpark resident who has volunteered each Thursday for the past 12 years, said that recently a child came in with the toes of his shoes cut out because the shoes didn’t fit him anymore.

“He was so grateful,” Kaufman said. “Some kids come in without underwear.”

Kaufman remembered a new foster mom whose sister had four children, all of them younger than five, when she was sent to jail.

Two of the children shared a jacket.

“They decided who would wear the jacket based on who needed the jacket the most that day,” said Kaufman, a retired high school principal. “You just want to cry when you hear these stories like that. There’s so much we take for granted.”

Kaufman said the childrens’ eyes lit up when they realized they were getting clothes.

“It was the first time they had new clothes,” she said.

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