Kids in Need partners with Toys for Tots to support McHenry County foster kids, families

Volunteers joined Kids in Need of McHenry County and Toys for Tots on Saturday, May 11, 2024, to stuff 100 care bags for children entering or transitioning in the foster care system.

Daniel Bouček had just taken over as coordinator for Toys for Tots McHenry County in 2021 when a local Marine veteran asked if the organization could also help Second Bridge.

“Do they help kids in need?” Bouček asked. If it did, then the Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots would help. That year, the local Toys for Tots affiliate donated $2,000 worth of toys for Kids in Need of Mchenry County, Bouček said, so children entering or moving in the foster care system could have a toy of their own.

At The Bridge in Crystal Lake, the by-appointment store where foster families can shop for free, one room now is filled with toys for children of all ages. Most of the toys now lining its shelves were supplied by Toys for Tots.

The Bridge store is operated by Kids in Need and its affiliate program, Second Bridge. The two work together to ensure McHenry County children in foster care and their foster families have the support they need when they need it. On Saturday, that support included stuffing 100 backpacks – care bags – for children entering foster care.

It so happens that as the local Toys for Tots program opened up helping local foster children, so has the national organization. That came about during COVID-19, said A.T. Wilson. Wilson, a Toys for Tots national headquarters representatives, was in Crystal Lake on Saturday helping stuff the care bags with supplies sourced by Toys for Tots: socks, underwear, toiletries and and a blanket. For younger children, the care bag also includes a toy.

“It is a back-to-school initiative, but with a focus on foster children,” Wilson said of the Toys for Tots program. “In the past, it was all going to the children in the last quarter of each year.” Now, in addition to the annual holiday toy drive, the organization includes initiatives for foster and Native American children, literacy and a youth ambassador program. In 2024, Wilson said, Toys for Tots will help stuff bags for foster children at at least one affiliate location in each state.

“We have a variety” of year-round programs to help children,” he asid

The need in McHenry County has grown, said Michelle Shepard of Kids in Need. Since January, the program has seen a 40% increase, serving 870 children.

“It is startling to hear, but I believe its always been out there” she said of the increased demand. “They are just hearing about us and receiving services.”

This weekend was picked to stuff care bags, because May is National Foster Care Month. It also is the five-year anniversary of when Second Bridge founder Alicia Wehby hosted her “Stuff the Duffel” event for foster children in the shadow of A.J. Freund’s death.

The bags will be stored at their new warehouse space at 4410 Route 176, Crystal Lake, KIN Executive Director Michelle Prickett said. KIN also is looking for additional sponsorships to cover the cost of that rental space.

When a child is sent to foster care, the backpack allows them to start with the basics: socks, underwear and a few toiletries. The toys and books included in those bags also are an essential part of making the child feel safe and loved because it is something just for him or her, Prickett said.

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