More than 200 local youth in the foster care system were given the chance to shop for new clothes ahead of the school year Sunday.
The Santa Clarita-based organization Tidings for Teens, which works to help the underserved youth in foster care, has partnered with the Department of Children and Family Services since 2016 to hold annual shopping events.
Each year, Tidings for Teens partners with Old Navy, which opened its store after hours for the private shopping event, along with Augusta Financial, which matches all funds raised, dollar for dollar, which has also helped to spur donations.
Since 2016, the event’s been growing, with the organization able to serve around 65 kids when the event began, to this year, serving 200 foster youth, as well as 30 who’ve aged out of the system.
Participating kids are chosen by the DCFS social workers as those in most need, and each child gets $100 to spend at Old Navy.
This year’s event was the biggest yet, and Michelle Penez, children’s services administrator with DCFS Santa Clarita, said it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the pandemic continues to impact local families.
Whether due to lost income during the pandemic or simply families who just need some extra help, foster youth need all the support they can get, Penez said. That includes older children, like Maya Hofmann, an 18-year-old who recently aged out of foster care, and is starting her first year at California State University, Northridge.
“I’m so excited. I haven’t been in school since … the beginning of the pandemic,” Hofmann said. “Foster youth like me that are just off to college and on their own now, we can’t always go out and spend (money) on clothes. We have to recycle the last year’s (clothes), make them look a little vintage.”
It’s because of this that Hofmann said events like this one are so helpful, adding, “It’s just clothes, but it’s much more to us because when do we get to do this?”
Some of the DCFS staff even traveled across the Santa Clarita Valley picking kids up to make sure they were able to attend the event, as the $100 goes a long way toward helping these foster youth feel prepared for the new school year, especially in the midst of the pandemic, as many wouldn’t have been able to get new clothes or school supplies otherwise, Penez added.
“It’s huge,” Penez added of the event’s importance. “A lot of our families have to choose between paying for utilities and rent or … backpacks and school supplies. That’s extra. A lot of our families are just going basic needs, and this is really helping them get extra support really when they need it most. … Tidings for Teens and the rest of our community have really risen up to the occasion to help us.”
DCFS is already prepping for holiday events to come in the fall, with a free community resource fair set to kick things off in October, followed by a Thanksgiving food drive, adopt-a-family program and more ahead of the holiday season.
For junior co-founders Jessica and Kaylin Mai, 15-year-old twins, seeing the kids shopping around happily is the most rewarding part of the process.
“It feels amazing just to know that our hard work is paying off and to see this recipient of all of our hard work,” Jessica said as she and her sister watched kids run around with bundles of clothing in their hands.
“Especially with COVID last year we couldn’t do this, so this year it was just really great to do it again,” added Kaylin.
Each year, the Mai twins enlist the help of their West Ranch High School cheer team, as well as other friends, including juniors Tenley Romberger, Lola Harrington and Lily Fair, all of whom were excited to return to volunteer at the shopping event for their second year.
“They do so much, and it makes me feel so nice helping them out, too,” Harrington said of helping the Mais.
“I know the foster system is really overpacked with kids, so anything to help the system and all the kids in it,” Romberger added.
Both Harrington and Fair said it’s both rewarding and fun helping the kids shop around.
“I just had so much fun helping the little girl I was with shop around,” Fair said. “It makes me feel really good.”
Fair also recruited her sister, Ryann, a freshman at West Ranch, to help, who was grateful to know others during the event, which made it even more fun to volunteer, she said.
This year, other cheer teams even got involved in the event after Isabela Sandoval, junior varsity cheer captain and sophomore at Valencia High School, found out about the opportunity.
“I went to my cheer advisers and my coach, and I was like, ‘We need to be a part of this,’” Sandoval said, adding that she ended up recruiting more than a dozen people to help out.
Sandoval’s cousins were foster kids, and she found herself wondering what it’d be like for them — or herself — to be in a situation where they didn’t have school supplies or clothes for back to school.
“I wanted to be part of something that helps those kids,” Sandoval said, adding that she hopes to help Tidings for Teens make this even bigger.
Her mom Jeanne Sandoval, who was also volunteering, described her daughter as a “heart with legs,” saying she was proud to see her rally for such a great cause
“As a parent, it’s really cool to see your kid take the initiative to care about other people,” she added. “Honestly, that’s what COVID did more to her — it made her look around and go, ‘Wow, this person’s suffering.’ … I think we’re going to see great things from this generation. They noticed a need, so it’s awesome.”
It’s people like Sandoval that Hofmann thinks can truly make a difference in their community.
“There are people out there that want to make a change … but they just don’t have the power and the resources,” Hofmann said. “So, they need to put their efforts together so more stuff like this can happen.”
DCFS Santa Clarita’s community resource fair is free and open to the public, with more than 60 community agencies set to attend to share their services and resources, such as housing, mental health services, faith-based community services and more.
The fair is scheduled 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 12 at the DCFS Santa Clarita office, located at 28490 Ave. Stanford, Suite 100. Any nonprofit agency that would like to table at the event to share their resources that can help foster families and children can register at tiny.cc/DCFSfair, or anyone who’d like to donate services or volunteer can contact Michelle Penez at [email protected] or 661-702-6255.
For more information on how to volunteer with Tidings for Teens or how to donate, email Tammey Mai at [email protected].