Caring for Kids, an all-volunteer organization, started forty-three years ago with a little clothing bank in the back of the old Lakeview Elementary School in Lakewood, WA.
Diane Formoso was a bus driver for the school and found that most of her students were in need. That Christmas a little boy got on her bus and shared with tears in his eyes that Santa was not coming to his house because his mother had to pay the rent. Diane made sure that Santa did come to Michael’s house that year. That was when the clothing bank started in the back of the counselor’s office to help struggling families and Caring for Kids was born. Diane is the founder and executive director working on a daily basis to help kids in need. Each time a new project started it was with one story of need.
The emergency food bank started after a call from a high school teacher who said there was a boy in her classroom whose family had not had food for three days. Diane went back to the bus garage and held a food drive. Within two days five large boxes of food were delivered to the family and the emergency food bank opened at Evergreen Elementary on Fort Lewis.
The Clothing Bank serves over 1,000 kids each year. All the clothes and shoes that are distributed from the clothing bank are new. A regular order includes a coat, 3 shirts, 3 pants and a pair of shoes. We also have socks and underwear.
The Holiday Fair started one December after a meeting of the Clover Park employees. The secretary from Lakeview approached Diane. She was very upset that a group had backed out of helping twenty-five families at her school. Diane started calling her co-workers, family and friends. Not only did the effort take care of twenty-five families, it ended up serving thirty-seven families. Since then each year the Holiday Fair has grown to a point where Caring for Kids is helping over 2,000 kids in need.
Another program was added to reach more of the kids in need. Color books and crayons were purchased and collected from the community. Today the color books are distributed at LASA, WIC, Greater Lakes Mental Health, three Fish Food banks, Food Connection food truck and the Springbrook Connection Christmas Give-away.
The School Supply Bank started with donations from the community and purchasing school supplies at the best prices in July and August. School supplies are distributed year round through the schools.
The Ready to Learn Fair started after an overwhelming number of calls for help just before school started. The first event was held in the Rainier Room at the Clover Park Technical College. There were clothes and school supplies available. As the event grew Caring for Kids moved to Park Lodge, then to Lochburn Middle School and a final move to Clover Park High School. Caring for Kids provided hundreds of bags of clothing, backpacks, school supplies, hygiene products, haircuts by the Clover Park Technical College and former graduates, bike helmets by West Pierce Fire, new and good used toys and books and lunch. There are now two additional events at Springbrook Park and Tillicum Community Center, because of isolation and transportation issues. This year, including all three events, 2,071 kids were ready to start school. In June, we also sent out 1,650 backpacks to the schools for emergencies during the first weeks of school.
In celebration of Read Across America, books are given out to Early Learning kids and low income kindergarten students. Most of these low income families cannot afford books or the money for transportation to the library. The books are usually the first books these kids have ever owned. Working with the First Book organization, Caring for Kids is able to purchase beautiful hard back books for fifty-five cents each. We also have a book room where schools can come in and pick out new books for their students.
Growing Up is Fun Bags are distributed to low income parents to help them prepare their kids for school. Each bag contains instructional materials and supplies. They are distributed to the Women, Infant and Children’s program (WIC) in Lakewood and Early Learning students.
Emergency Food Kits are distributed to the schools. Each kit includes a canned meal, can of fruit, cup of soup, instant oatmeal packet, crackers and a spoon.
January 2016 we started to distribute air beds. Since then we have distributed 442 beds. We also have blankets and pillows.
McDonalds’ $5 gift cards are purchased and given out to homeless and struggling families. Many are living in their cars or couch surfing.
Baby clothes are collected and given out through our clothing bank, WIC and the clothing bank at Tillicum Community Center.
We have also formed relationships with the WIC, Greater Lakes Mental Health, Fish Food Banks, Tillicum Community Center, Springbrook Connection, Communities in Schools, Clover Park Technical College, the Methodist Church, who serves dinner to food bank clients, and the Food Connection Truck. Caring for Kids provides homeless kits, food, school supplies and basic needs to all of these programs.