Tidings for Teens is collecting funds for its annual shopping event that gives underserved youth in the foster care system the chance to shop for new clothes ahead of the school year.
Los Angeles County is home to the largest child welfare system in the United States, with more than 35,000 open cases for children at any given time, with approximately 1,300 of those living in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Since 2014, the Santa Clarita-based organization has been growing its operation, raising funds to serve local foster youth most in need of assistance.
The organization began with two moms, co-founders Kelly Meena and Tammey Mai — one who had a foster child of her own and one who spent some time in foster care as a child — with similar goals: help the underserved youth in foster care.
And as a former Department of Children and Family Services worker in Ventura County, Meena also knew firsthand that it’s the older children in the system who are most in need.
“The donations that you get … tend to be toys, which are great for the little kids, but the teenagers don’t really have a need for those things,” Meena said. “They still like Christmas and they still want gifts, and it still means something to them.”
It was after Meena told Mai of the need for gifts for teens that the organization was born, collecting funds to give foster youth gift cards for Christmas in its first year.
“It was just blind faith,” Mai said. “We just started collecting (donations), and it was out of Kelly’s house that first year. We knew not what we were doing, we were just ambitious.”
Since then, the organization has continued to look for ways to serve the most in need, finding it was actually their shopping event that served the greatest need.
“I think all kids like to get a fresh start on a school year, with new clothes and supplies,” Meena said. “We can all relate to wanting to look nice for the first day of anything, whether it’s a new job or new school year.”
Junior co-founders and Mai’s daughters, Jessica and Kaylin Mai, have grown with the organization and gotten more involved through the years.
Now 15, the Mai twins have enlisted the help of their West Ranch High School cheer team, as well as other friends, to canvas the SCV for donations.
“It feels amazing,” Jessica Mai said of helping with the organization. “Just seeing what other kids have to go through, I’m so like grateful for my parents and how hard they work and how much they’re able to provide for me — and not all those kids get that.”
For Kaylin Mai, it’s been seeing the organization grow that has been special to her.
“Over the years, we’ve become more involved and just make more of a difference,” Kaylin said.
“We get to help more and more kids every year,” Jessica added. “It’s really special.”
When the organization began the shopping event in 2016, they were able to serve around 65 kids, and this year, they have already raised enough for 170 youth under 18, as well as 30 foster kids who are now adults, with the hopes of increasing that number even further.
“The community has really embraced it,” Mai said of the event. “When we put it out there, the community just answers the call.”
Each year, Tidings for Teens partners with Old Navy, who open their store after hours for the private shopping event, along with Augusta Financial, who match all funds raised, dollar for dollar, which has also helped to spur donations.
Participating kids are chosen by the DCFS social workers as those in most need, and each child gets $100 to spend at Old Navy.
“It’s the only event where the donors can actually meet the recipient,” Kaylin said.
“We pair up a donor or volunteer with one of the kids, and they get to help them shop around and look for new clothes,” Jessica added.
Meena and the Mais hope to make Tidings for Teens a nonprofit and hope to continue to serve more and more kids in the SCV while also inspiring other communities to create their own versions of the organization.
The Tidings for Teens shopping event is scheduled 7-10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15, at Old Navy. For more information on how to donate, email Tammey Mai at [email protected].