Group aims to help W.Va. foster children

Submitted photo Lyra Nazelrod, 4, and her brother, 3-year-old Lincoln Nazelrod, help volunteer for the Boxes with A Purpose program last week in Belington. The nonprofit group accepted donations for West Virginia foster children and will distribute gifts in time for Christmas Eve.

Editor’s note: The Inter-Mountain’s annual Comfort and Joy series will continue in each edition leading up to Christmas.

BELINGTON — What started as an idea this fall with a group of Barbour County friends quickly grew into a project that will reach foster children in at least 22 counties this Christmas Eve.

The Boxes with A Purpose program will provide gifts of pajamas, popcorn, hot chocolate, one movie, a book and a stuffed animal to West Virginia foster children this holiday season, said Vanessa Short of Barbour County, who is one of the organizers.

Short said she and a group of friends with various backgrounds in the medical field, education, marketing and not-for-profit sector sat down this fall and came up with the idea for Boxes with A Purpose. Their initial goal was to serve 267 children with a Christmas Eve fun box.

As of last week, when donations were being finalized, Short said they expected to surpass 1,000 boxes for foster kids, thanks to tremendous support from businesses, school groups and many organizations throughout the region.

“It really did just grow out of nowhere — it’s amazing,” she said. “We kept saying this is like a real-life Hallmark movie.”

Short said the number of foster children in West Virginia has reached a crisis level, with many kids in need of safe, permanent homes because of drugs, substance abuse or other family problems. This program is just one way to try to help foster children know that people in communities throughout the state are thinking about them.

“We can’t all foster, but we can all do something,” she said, noting one business sponsor has pledged to support boxes for 200 children next year.

Many other businesses have helped as well, Short said, through donations as well as by serving as dropoff locations. She noted dropoff locations were set up in Belington, Philippi, Elkins, Buckhannon, Bridgeport, Fairmont, Grafton, Hazelton, Morgantown and Parkersburg.

“Fellow West Virginians were so generous,” she said, adding students from Kasson Elementary School, Philip Barbour High School and Fairmont State University also helped gather donations and fill boxes for the program, as well as Girl Scouts groups in the area.

A group of volunteers finished filling the boxes last week, and they will be delivered to foster children at shelters and in foster homes in time for Christmas Eve.

Short said it’s been amazing to see all the different people and communities come together and volunteer for the project.

The group is in the process of obtaining 501-c-3 status as a nonprofit agency, and Short said she hopes the program can expand to reach more counties.

She said the group already has set a goal of helping 3,000 foster children in 2018, and at least 100 volunteers will be needed to help sort the boxes. Volunteers also will be welcome to help coordinate donations next year, and Short said it would be a great opportunity for students in need of community service hours.

Ultimately, she hopes the program can reach every foster child in the state. She also said the group might plan events for single mothers and foster parents around Mother’s Day.

Short said there are four main purposes of the program:

• to provide an enjoyable Christmas Eve experience for children in foster care;

• to demonstrate to those children that people in the community care about them, and they are not alone;

• to provide a small but tangible means of support to foster parents; and

• to raise awareness about foster care and all that it entails.

More information about Boxes with A Purpose can be found on the group’s Facebook page or by visiting http://www.boxeswithapurpose.org.

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