I firmly believe that our communities’ children are the responsibility of all of us. Maybe you don’t feel that you are able to foster or adopt. Maybe you don’t feel it is your gifting. This post isn’t about persuading or encouraging anyone to foster (I’ll save that for down the road!). You don’t have to foster or adopt to support vulnerable children. There are a million ways to support a foster family in your community, and I’m sure they’ll find themselves into a blog post as well, but here are four ways you can support a foster family you know and love, but that does not live in your city. The ways aren’t listed in any specific order but are simply four ideas of ways you can offer long-distance support, right from where you are.
- Encourage them.
Now this sounds fluffy, but it doesn’t need to be. Send them a text, an email, a note in the mail. Let them know that you are intentionally thinking about them. Don’t just do it once—do it regularly. Set an alarm and reach out once a week, once a month, or once a season. You have no idea what kind of day they just lived, and opening up an encouraging email may be enough to lift their spirits that evening. If you pray for them, send them a text letting them know you just did. Reach out consistently and ask them for specific prayer requests; let them know you haven’t forgotten about them or what they do.
These last two months have been some of the most difficult for us as a family, as we’ve been stretched to our limits with four children under 3 years old. Our mental and physical health have suffered, and we’ve cried out in frustration more times than I can count. But I have been encouraged numerous times by Facebook messages, Instagram DMs, texts, emails, and cards from friends and even those we-once-knew-each-other acquaintances from a lifetime ago.
Your kind words matter. Use them well.
- Organize a meal train.
Whether the foster parents you know are suddenly first-time parents to three, seasoned parents nurturing a newborn in withdrawal, or parents dealing with the crazy teen years, chances are they could use a meal. It doesn’t matter if the children they are raising have been with them for five years or for five hours, they could use a meal. Churches have become an incredible powerhouse of help by organizing meals for new mothers. Any mother knows how exhausting those first weeks with a new baby are. But did you know that we have never had a meal train organized after a foster placement? Thankfully, I reached out to our church and asked for a meal train on several occasions, but asking for help like that is incredibly difficult.
We have sustained ourselves with meals provided to us by friends (and strangers!) over these last two months. On the rare occasion that I feel up to cooking, we have a healthy meal I have prepared, but for the most part, we are popping in frozen pizzas and warming up leftovers generously provided to us by others. We are forever grateful for these.
There is an incredible website called MealTrain.com that allows you to organize a meal train for friends. Information can be added to account for number of children and of adults, dietary preferences, and even preferred hours to drop off food. A personalized link is then generated, allowing people to share the link via email or on social media. Friends can then sign up and post what meal they will be providing, ensuring that the family receives a variety of food and also preventing a family from receiving three meals one day and having none the following week. And the best part yet? Anyone can set up the meal train—you don’t need to live in their city to be the meal train administrator and encourage people who are local to support your friends in this very practical way.
- Send a care package.
Raid your local dollar store and find fun and encouraging gifts. Put together a care package full of goodies and ship it off to your friends. Include encouraging and inspiring quotes or Bible verses. Figure out what their favourite treats are. Find a good book. Send a small gift card to a local coffee shop. Over the last many weeks we have received money over PayPal for pizza and other restaurant gift cards. Foster care is often a lonely journey, and when you send a care package, you send the message: I see you.
- Purchase something from their wish list.
Amazon has this fun feature that allows anyone to create a wish list. Ask them if they have one going. Purchase something from their list, and it will automatically be shipped to the address they have set up. Share the list with mutual friends.
If they don’t have one, offer to start a wish list for them or encourage them to create their own. If they have babies, they will need to purchase wipes, diapers, and formula consistently. Soothers, soother clips, bibs, teething toys, bottles, bottle nipples, the ever-changing wardrobe, books, and other developmentally appropriate toys add up. Specifically ask them what they have been eyeing, or if there’s something they need. As the children get older, they will purchase items that further hobbies and the children’s various interests. Hygiene products become increasingly more expensive and the shopping list can seem never-ending.
If they push back or tell you that they’re okay, push harder. Let them know your budget and say something like, “I would like to purchase $25 worth of items for your foster child. Please let me know what I should get, or would you prefer I send you a gift card instead?” This question avoids an open-ended answer on their part and shows them that you are serious about investing in their ministry.
Foster care is a vital ministry right in your back yard. As believers, we often support missionaries overseas, believing it is an honour and privilege to partner in the work they are doing. Our support enables their ministry, making us partners in this kingdom-furthering work. I encourage you to view foster families in a similar light. The support you offer enables and empowers them to continue in this hard calling, making God’s love known in the midst of broken families in your community.
To my fellow foster parents, what else would you add? Let me know in the comments.